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Is It Illegal to Take a Voting Booth Selfie?

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It’s election time again. And that means nothing but Instagram photos of people’s “I Voted” stickers, long lines at polling booths, and the occasional celebrity taking an ill-advised voting booth selfie.

Which begs the question: Is it illegal to take a voting booth selfie?

Short answer: Depending on where you live, possibly—although probably not for much longer. And, assuming you’re not taking the photo for some dark and evil purpose, your chances of being prosecuted are low. (But that’s not an excuse to do it!)

The reason for this has nothing to do with being a Luddite and everything to do with the integrity of the voting process in three main ways: vote buying, undue influence, and voter intimidation.

VOTE BUYING/VOTER INFLUENCE

In 2012, a citizen of North Carolina brought his smartphone to the polling booth. He had made his notes of which candidates he wanted to vote for on his phone, took out his phone to read the list, and was immediately descended upon by election officials, who ultimately made him leave the room, make notes on a piece of paper, and then return to cast his vote. As local station WRAL explained, there were two problems: The first was that, by having a cell phone, he could be texting someone and receiving information about who to vote for.

The second point was that if some criminal spent large sums of money to buy votes, the only way they could tell if a voter followed his or her instructions would be with a picture (widespread vote buying in the late 19th century is the reason we now have secret ballots). WRAL even mentioned stories of criminal syndicates giving people cell phones to document their votes in the polling booth.

Of course, these points are weakened slightly thanks to the proliferation of absentee voting. In 2000, a satirical website, Vote Auction, appeared. The premise was that you would auction off your vote and then fill in an absentee ballot. That absentee ballot would be sent off, verified, and mailed to the correct polling place.

The website, of course, was ridiculously illegal and was quickly shut down (the webmaster claimed it was a protest against the role of money in government), but it became another example of the increasing worries of how the internet would affect voting.

A closely related sibling to vote buying is voter influence—and this is where it gets dicey for celebrities. If it’s obvious a major star is voting for Candidate X, their fans may want to emulate that celebrity. In countries with strong anti-influence-election-laws, such as New Zealand, posting a completed ballot selfie online on Election Day can result in heavy fines, and the Electoral Commission says, “It also potentially exposes the voter’s friends to the risk of breaching the rules if they share, re-share, or repost the voter’s ‘selfie’ on election day.”

VOTER INTIMIDATION

There’s another worry about selfies at polling places: other people. According to The Huffington Post, in 1994 there were concerns that videos of polls in the South were “thinly veiled attempts to intimidate black voters at the polls.” And in the 1960s, there were reports that Texas Rangers were “in Mexican-American districts and used cameras, apparently taking pictures of the voters.” While these cases were never pursued, they helped create a wave of photographic restrictions not just in the polling booth, but in the area around them as well. Which makes sense, as the person behind you in line may not want anyone to know that they’re voting.

WILL I GET PROSECUTED?

Tough to tell. Several states don’t even really have enforcement mechanisms for the law (for a list of state laws, see here). And most states don’t care if you’re just posting it for your own benefit, as legitimate political speech was never supposed to be the target, although it’s never a good idea to gamble on the kindness of bureaucrats.

But they might soon be legal. The ACLU has been fighting several high-profile cases regarding these bans, with varying levels of success. So whether you take a selfie or not, you’re participating in the long struggle between freedom of speech and a free election.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Notorious RBG Is Now Available in a Young Readers' Edition
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"Supreme Court Justice" and "pop culture icon" aren’t two titles that necessarily go together, but Ruth Bader Ginsburg's story has never followed a script. As the second female Justice to ever be confirmed to the Supreme Court, Ginsburg has crafted a unique resume as a sharp legal mind and a champion for gender equality on a bench that has historically lacked a woman’s perspective.

In recent years, her story found its way to Tumblr, courtesy of a law student named Shana Knizhnik. Her Notorious RBG tribute page showcased Ginsburg’s career and accomplishments in a light that any young adult could appreciate, no matter how much they knew about current events. It distilled her career down into meme-able chunks, comparing the iconic Justice to rap legend Notorious BIG. This page was eventually turned into a biography published by Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.

Now, the Notorious RBG is looking to inspire an even younger generation, as HarperCollins has released a Young Readers’ Edition of the biography aimed at kids ages eight to 12. Filled with anecdotes about Ginsburg’s life, illustrations of her accomplishments, a pictorial timeline, and facts about the Supreme Court's history, this version of Notorious RBG “mixes pop culture, humor, and expert analysis for a remarkable account of the indomitable Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Heroine. Trailblazer. Pioneer,” according to the publisher.

In addition to her highly publicized triumphs behind the bench, the book also examines her adolescence in the 1930 and ‘40s, when professional opportunities for women were virtually nonexistent in many fields. Written by Shana Knizhnik and Irin Carmon, the Notorious RBG charts Ginsburg’s path from a precocious young student into one of the most influential legal minds of the 20th and 21st centuries.

The Young Readers’ Edition of Notorious RBG is available now from HarperCollins. You can also purchase it via Amazon.

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Sam Adams's New $200 Beer Might Be Illegal in Your State
Sam Adams
Sam Adams

If you don’t have a high tolerance, Sam Adams’s latest beer could be more of a conversation piece than anything you want to imbibe. That is, if you can even get ahold of the $200 brew at all. The 2017 release of Utopias, the beer maker's biennial barrel-aged specialty, has a staggering 28 percent alcohol-by-volume (ABV) content—making it illegal in some places in the U.S.

According to Thrillist, Utopias’s unusually high ABV makes it unwelcome in 12 states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, both North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington. While a typical beer is between 4 and 7 percent ABV, your average distilled spirit can be 40 percent ABV (also known as 80 proof) or more. So what's the big deal with a 28 percent ABV drink? It turns out, those states have laws limiting the strength of beer, many of them holdovers from the end of Prohibition. Sorry, Alabama beer obsessives.

Assuming you’re legally able to buy a bottle of Utopias, what can you expect? Sam Adams says it has flavors reminiscent of "dark fruit, subtle sweetness, and a deep rich malty smoothness," but the beer won’t be bubbly, according to Fortune, since at that level, the alcohol devours any CO2. You should think of it more as a fine liquor or cognac than a craft beer. And you should pour it accordingly, Sam Adams recommends, in 1-ounce servings.

The 2017 Utopias run will be limited to 13,000 bottles. The brew goes on sale for $200 in early December.

[h/t Thrillist]

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