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Editorial: Selfies sacrifice sanctity of democracy’s secret ballot

Justin Timberlake did it.

So did the spokesman for the New Mexico attorney general.

Timberlake posted a selfie of himself in a Tennessee voting booth on Instagram; AG spokesman James Hallinan posted his ballot – complete with his vote for Hillary Clinton – on his personal Twitter account. They and others would argue it’s a matter of transparency and pride in doing your civic duty.

And in fact 44 states allow photography in a polling place, while 32 allow you to share a photo of your ballot. Federal judges have struck down Election Day selfie bans in New Hampshire and Indiana, and rules have been changed in California and Rhode Island. New Mexico law prohibits voters from showing their marked paper ballot “to any person in such a way as to reveal its contents,” but there are no penalty provisions that would make a ban enforceable.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire argues the issue “goes to the core of democracy” and “The First Amendment needs to be guarded rigorously. These old laws cannot and should not be applied to the modern technology.”

But old political intimidation could be.

There’s a sound reason behind the secret ballot, and it has nothing to do with not being proud of your vote – it has to do with ensuring your vote is yours and yours alone and that you are not influenced by any other individual or organization.

The Verified Voting Foundation, Electronic Privacy information Center and Common Cause point out “the right to cast a secret ballot in a public election is a core value in the United States’ system of self-governance. Secrecy and privacy in elections guard against coercion and are essential to integrity in the electoral process.”

Sure, you can argue persuasively that your ballot is yours to share. But it is not hard to imagine an employer – public or private – demanding to see a selfie of your completed ballot and then basing workplace decisions upon it. Or a college professor requiring it and then adjusting grades based on what it reveals. Or an abusive spouse demanding proof you voted “the right way.”

In fact, it is not hard to imagine anyone who could abuse their power using it to get you to vote their way instead of your way. Allowing one person to take selfies of a ballot means everyone can.

Even if they do so under duress.

The ACLU is right that modern technology has made social media a part of many aspects of our lives. But an organization based on protecting civil liberties should ensure it is not sacrificing a core one our democracy is based on in favor of one that provides fleeting satisfaction to a segment of the electorate.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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