Can you post your marked ballot on social media? Hawaii’s law unclear

Could taking a picture of your completed ballot and posting it on social media jeopardize your vote?

Turns out, there’s confusion when it comes to Hawaii’s law.

A little-known state law that addresses voting secrecy forbids voters from “exhibiting” a ballot after it has been marked. Other states have similar laws.

According to HRS §11-137:

“If any person having received a ballot leaves the polling place without first delivering the ballot to the precinct official as provided above, or wilfully exhibits the person’s ballot or the person’s unvoted ballots in a special primary or primary election, except as provided in section 11-139 and 11-132, after the ballot has been marked, the person shall forfeit the person’s right to vote, and the chairperson of the precinct officials shall cause a record to be made of the proceeding.”

The state law, which dates back more than 40 years and before the age of social media and smartphones, will get another look when the legislature convenes next year.

The issue came to light in the weeks leading to this year’s primary election, when supporters of two candidates for Congress urged their respective camps via blast emails to take pictures of their filled-in absentee ballots and share them via social media.

The League of Women Voters in Hawaii objected to that practice, saying that a secret ballot “is one of the hearts of our democracy.” In response to the complaint, both camps dropped the practice.

KHON2 looked further into this little-known law and found out that there was a distinction.

“It looks to me to be some inconsistencies between primaries and generals,” said Rep. Karl Rhoads (D-Kalihi, Palama, Iwilei, Chinatown), chairman of the House judiciary committee. “At least in the primary, you’re not supposed to show your ballot to other people… The statute is unclear right now and we should look at it for clarity’s sake, if nothing else.”

There are signs posted telling people not to use their cell phones in walk-in polling places.

“If you’re in the privacy of the voting booth, you take a picture on your cell phone who you voted for and turn in your ballot, and you say ‘Here’s who I voted for,’ I don’t see what the problem is,” said Rhoads.

Rhoads speculates that the secret ballot laws were adopted to prevent arm twisting and intimidating people to vote a certain way.

But should there be a law against taking pictures of your completed ballot, then sharing that picture with others?

“It’s a good question,” said Rami Braginsky, who spoke to KHON2 just after he voted at Honolulu Hale,  “whether or not it should be private, or does the public have the right to be able to let others know through social media about their choices for office.”

Voter Joan Nakamura said while she herself would not take a picture of her ballot and share it, she said if others “want to, they should be able to. Freedom of speech.”

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