Asymmetrical Information - Megan McArdle

Stop Photographing Your Election Ballot!

In many places, it's illegal. And probably for good reason.

11.06.12 5:29 PM ET

Today's social media trend appears to be photographing your ballot and posting the results on Facebook or Twitter.  One small problem: this is illegal in many states.  James Joyner voices the question that probably immediately popped into many of your minds:  What the hey?

Why on earth should it be illegal to snap a picture of your own ballot? How could that possibly constitute voter fraud? For that matter, why can’t voters look at their phone to see who they’re supposed to vote for? How is that any worse than using a paper sample ballot handed out by some yahoo electioneering on the sidewalk outside the polling place?  

Presumably, to prevent vote-buying.  Votes used to be widely available in America for outrageously small sums of money, or free whiskey.  But that was back in the 19th century, before secret ballot measures were adopted.  Now the buyer of votes has a grave difficulty: people might take your money, and then pull the lever for the other guy.  

Enter the camera.  As inexpensive snapshot cameras became available, the vote-buyers were potentially back in business; just demand that the voter mark his ballot in indelible ink and then take a picture.  

I err on the side of fewer government regulations wherever possible, but this law seems basically sensible to me, even though I know that none of my facebook friends were trying to collect on a completed sale.  The only way to keep vote buying from making economic sense is to make it impossible to verify how a vote was cast.  And the only way to do that is to collectively decide that none of us will take pictures, even for innocent purposes.