In these days of Instagram and Snapchat, taking a selfie at the ballot box might seem harmless enough.
But anyone who possesses even a passing knowledge of Chicago’s colorfully crooked vote-fixing history, when showing proof that you voted “right” could get you the price of a beer or a job at Streets and San, knows better. We urge a committee of the Illinois House to vote “right” on Thursday and shoot down two bills that would make it OK to take a selfie in a voting booth.
We understand the good intentions driving the bills. “We should be moving away from criminalizing acts that aren’t causing harm to individuals,” explained Rep. La Shawn Ford, a chief sponsor of one bill. Under current law, selfies in the booths can lead to felony charges, which in most cases does sound extreme.
Ford and Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, chief sponsor of the second selfie bill, also want to motivate younger Americans to participate in our democracy.
“People are excited about exercising their right to vote,” Welch said. “They want to show it off.”
Last fall, the singer and actor Justin Timberlake snapped a selfie as he voted early in Memphis, Tennessee, to encourage young Americans to vote in the November election.
But Tennessee, like Illinois, has a law that prohibits taking photographs in voting booths. Timberlake was not prosecuted, probably because it was harmless, but the incident raised questions about whether states should lighten up on such bans.
Here’s the thing: Cameras might be terrific in a courtroom. Let the world see how the American justice system works. But cameras of any sort have no place in a polling place, where privacy is sacrosanct. Do you want the guy in the voting booth next to you snapping photos? Where is that camera pointed?
Cook County Clerk David Orr, an opponent of selfies in the voting booth, told us he could imagine a scenario where your bully boss demands to see that selfie to make sure you voted for a favored candidate. The two proposed bills try to build in safeguards against this. In this hypothetical case, the boss could face felony charges. But the burden would be on the employee to turn the boss in.
Let’s not go there.
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