Justin Timberlake hopped a flight from Los Angeles to Memphis last month to vote early, capping the moment by snapping a selfie in front of his voting machine.
The picture — posted on Twitter and Instagram before it was quickly removed — was supposedly under investigation for violating a Tennessee law banning "ballot selfies." Reports suggested the pop star faced a fine or even jail time.
But local prosecutors said they had no intention of going after Timberlake in a case that highlights how laws about photos in polling places can be murky, outdated or incomplete — adding to the confusion about whether a person even has such a constitutional right.
As voters cast their ballots in this age of social media, they'll find that documenting the experience might not be as simple as saying cheese.
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These states, as well as Washington, D.C., have no laws on the books explicitly banning selfies or electronic recordings, although many election officials told NBC News that they discourage the act because it holds up lines or can compromise other voters' privacy
- Delaware: Polling places put up signs that say "no cellphones," but it is not a law. Elections Commissioner Elaine Manlove said that is more of a suggestion because people talking on their cellphones can be seen as a distraction.
- District of Columbia
- Hawaii: A law passed this year that allows voters to share their own ballot pictures on social media.
- New Hampshire: A federal appeals court struck down the state's ban on selfies as unconstitutional in September.
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island: Photos are allowed as long as they don't show another person's ballot.
Law Is Unclear
These states have explicit laws banning electronic recording at polling places or of one's ballot. The penalties vary from fines to possible jail time depending on the local prosecutor's discretion:
- Michigan: A federal judge ruled Oct. 24 that the state's ballot selfie ban was unconstitutional, which paves the way for people to take pictures of their ballots in time for the election. A federal appeals court upheld the ban last Thursday.
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Tennessee: Voters aren't prohibited from taking photos or videos at the polls, but they can use electronic devices to assist them for information while voting.
- West Virginia
These states might have some laws mentioning photography at polling places, but they can be open to interpretation or might be incomplete:
- Arizona: Photography is banned within 75 feet of a polling site, but the law was changed last year so that people could post photos of early ballots on social media.
- Arkansas: Ballot selfies aren't banned, but the law on sharing voter choices remains ambiguous.
- California: Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a law repealing California's ban on showing off marked ballots — but it doesn't take effect until Jan. 1.
- Illinois: The state does not have an explicit statute addressing selfies, although it is a crime to "knowingly" mark ballots so that another person can see them. Technically, posting a picture of a voted ballot could fall under a class IV felony, but it's doubtful a state attorney would prosecute unless there were indications of vote buying or something more serious, officials say.
- Missouri: Under state law, voters cannot show their ballots to anyone with the intent of letting others know how they voted or how they're about to vote. Ballot selfies, specifically, can be a "gray area."
- New Jersey: There is no uniform rule covering the issue of photographs at polling places, but it's at the discretion of each of the 21 counties' boards of elections.
- Ohio: The state doesn't allow voters to show their ballots with the intention of letting people see how they voted, but local jurisdictions can decide how to enforce the law.
- Oklahoma: The state law — written in the 1970s — is vague and doesn't include ballot selfies and doesn't outline any penalties. Given the vagueness of the law, election officials advise people not to take selfies at polling sites. "However, we are not aware of anyone ever being prosecuted for doing so, and it would be up to local district attorneys to decide whether to prosecute someone," said Oklahoma State Election Board spokesman Bryan Dean.
- Pennsylvania: State law bars people from revealing how they're "about to vote," but officials have also released guidance noting there is a First Amendment right to take selfies.