Looking back, I’m not quite sure when this became a thing.
Step 1: Go vote.
Step 2: Grab a sticker that says “I vote, I count.”
Step 3: Take a selfie.
Step 4: Upload it to Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram.
Step 5: Write a snarky post to accompany it. Pat yourself on the back – ever so humbly, of course – for being a good citizen. Then challenge your friends to go be good citizens, too.
Democracy by shaming on social media. Fortunately or unfortunately, that’s where we are, America.
I saw it in action last Tuesday as my friends in Indiana posted selfie after selfie, proud of themselves after voting in the presidential primary. We won’t talk about who they voted for, but the patriotism was palpable, even all the way out here.
And yet, for some reason, our laws haven’t kept up with this phenomenon.
The ridiculous truth is, even in this age of smartphones and social media, it is still illegal in most states to take a selfie inside of a voting booth. In California, it’s also illegal for voters to shoot photos or videos within 100 feet of a polling place with the intent of dissuading a voter.
Of course, these laws were enacted for good reasons – voter fraud, chief among them.
But with most Americans now carrying devices capable of snapping high-definition photos and sending them around the world in seconds, does it really make sense to continue such bans, especially when violators can be subject to hefty fines and jail time?
The obvious answer is no. At least one member of the Assembly agrees. Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, is sponsoring a bill to legalize “ballot selfies.”
Meanwhile, Venice-based Snapchat is leading the charge in other states.
The company recently filed an amicus brief in a case to overturn New Hampshire’s ban. Last year, a federal judge struck down the state’s law, under which voters faced a $1,000 fine for sharing a photo of their ballot. New Hampshire is now appealing that decision to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the brief, Snapchat argues ballot selfies are a form of political expression, like a campaign button, that should be protected by the First Amendment. A similar argument worked for the ACLU in Indiana last year. Ballot selfies are now legal there.
“It proves that the voter’s stated political convictions are not just idle talk,” Snapchat argues. “Not only that, but ballot selfies and other digital expressions of civic engagement encourage others to vote – particularly younger voters who have historically low turnout rates.”
That gets to the bigger point. Voter turnout is terrible, especially among young voters.
California hit an all-time low in 2014, prompting billionaire Democratic activist Tom Steyer to launch a statewide advertising campaign to boost voter registration, particularly among young people and in communities of color.
I’m sure that will help, but frankly, we need all the help we can get.
With Donald Trump now the presumptive Republican nominee for president, one can certainly argue that there are a lot more pressing problems with the electoral process than ballot selfies. But if we’re truly concerned about maintaining this representative democracy of ours, we should explore anything we can to ingrain the value of voting into a new generation.
Fellow Americans, now is not the time to be camera shy.