Politics

Can I post a selfie from the ballot booth? Bring a gun? And other questions about voting in Alaska

Alaskans are increasingly sharing their civic pride on Election Day in methods extending beyond the ubiquitous "I Voted Today!" sticker. Enter the ballot-booth selfie.

But here's the thing: Sharing your marked ballot is actually illegal in Alaska, even if a voter is unlikely to suffer any consequences from posting that shot on Instagram.

Alaskans by the thousands have been heading to the polls to vote before Election Day. More than 30,000 Alaskans had cast early, in-person ballots as of Sunday afternoon. The total has outpaced the 2012 record of 22,200 early votes.

Alaskans may have a few questions about the legal boundaries of showing their civic excitement at the polls.

Can I take a selfie?

In recent years, voters across the nation have been snapping photos with their marked ballots and sharing them online. Laws designed to ensure voter privacy and secrecy are often applicable — though not intentionally — to this new style of electioneering. In dozens of states, selfies are either illegal or the law is unclear.

In Alaska, it's somewhere in between.

"The statute was drafted around 1960, basically prohibiting folks voting their ballot and going out into the polling place and showing everybody," said Josephine Bahnke, director of the Alaska Division of Elections.

But "at this time state law does not have teeth enforcing" the provision, she said.

The two statutes that bar "selfies" — AS 15.15.280 and AS 15.15.300 — have been around since well before smartphones and social media made sharing a ballot as easy as a few swipes of the thumb.

The law says that a voter "may not exhibit" his or her ballot "to an election official or any other person so as to enable any person to ascertain how the voter marked the ballot." Posting a picture of a marked ballot on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or even texting it to a friend would clearly violate that.

It's not a criminal offense — it just invalidates the voter's ballot if an election official knows about it before the vote goes in the ballot box.

"An election official may not allow a ballot to be placed in the ballot box that the official knows to have been unlawfully exhibited by the voter. A ballot unlawfully exhibited shall be recorded as a spoiled ballot and destroyed," the law says.

So, "really there is no practical enforcement," Bahnke said. By the time a person posted his or her ballot picture online, election officials "wouldn't be able to not count their ballot."

The Division of Elections has held internal discussions about doing a public service announcement or posting signs "reminding voters of ballot secrecy and voting rights," but didn't end up doing anything this year, Bahnke said.

Alaskans have already been posting their ballot selfies online. Early voting began Oct. 24 and continues on Monday ahead of Election Day on Tuesday.

Other parts of Alaska election law make it a bit easier for voters to take a ballot selfie without drawing attention: The law requires a privacy curtain in a ballot booth at least 6 feet tall. And remember — it's not the photo that's the spoiler — it's sharing it.

The law has only really been tested once in court, in a 1987 Supreme Court case over a tight race with a close recount. One ballot was challenged because a voter signed his or her name, and the court decided that it was not "spoiled" under the law.

A judge in Colorado ruled just last week that the state can't enforce an 1891 law there preventing voters from disseminating their marked ballots. A federal judge banned Indiana from enforcing its law against ballot selfies last year.

Can I bring a gun?

With so much talk during this presidential election about voter fraud, policing the polls and voter intimidation, Alaskans might wonder where their Second Amendment rights fold into the whole event.

In Alaska, an open-carry state, whether you can take a gun to the polls depends on your polling place. There are no federal laws relating to carrying a gun at a polling place. Some states, including Arizona, Florida, Louisiana and Texas, bar guns at polling places.

If a gun is normally banned in your polling place — like in a school — then leave the firearm at home. Alaska law bans firearms in schools, domestic violence shelters, courts and correctional institutions.

If casting a vote on private property, then it's up to the property owner. Otherwise, the usual Alaska open-carry allowances remain in place.

No campaigning, bring an ID

The usual electioneering restrictions apply in Alaska: No campaigning within 200 feet of the entrance to a voting area, whether it's discussion of candidates, campaign signs or wearing campaign buttons.

In Alaska, voters are required to show identification to poll workers before voting. That includes a variety of documents: a voter ID card, driver's license or other state-issued identification card, passport, birth certificate, military ID, a hunting or fishing license or even a utility bill that shows the voter's name and current address.

Don't have an ID? You can still vote. There are two options: if someone working the polls knows a voter personally, they can simply mark the ballot "PK," for "personally known." Alternately, if a voter has no identification, can't find their name on the precinct register, has changed an address or perhaps is voting at a precinct other than his or her own, the voter will be given a "questioned ballot." Questioned ballots are counted within 15 days of the election.

Erica Martinson

Erica Martinson is a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Washington, D.C.

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