Michigan voters show off ballot selfies online

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

There's a trend that goes on almost every election cycle. People vote, receive an "I voted" sticker and posts a selfie to show that they voted.

That trend continues as voting for the general election ends Tuesday.

From left, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson takes a selfie with voters casting their ballots: Cornelius Mickels, 35, Laura Mickels, 32, Brittney Kern, 32, and, at bottom, Amber Hobbs, 25, all of Southfield, during a voting parade Oct. 25 in Southfield. (Behind Benson is Michigan Rep. Kyra Harris Bolden.)

But for the first time in a presidential election in Michigan, voters can show the physical proof of their participation in the election by posting a "ballot selfie."

That's what Lauren Stankiewicz did with her absentee ballot. 

"I thought it would be encouraging to just let people know in my generation, especially in my demographic that they got to go vote," said Stankiewicz, 29, of Redford, who posted a photo on Instagram with her ballot. "I think there might be a mindset that voting is not really cool or voting doesn't matter, but as much as people don't want to admit it, they can be influenced by their peers and what their peers are posting."

As of Monday, 987,000 photos of ballots, voting stickers and absentee ballot drop boxes had been posted on Instagram with the hashtag #Ivoted. The posts came from all over the country but selfies from Michigan were few and far between. 

That's because until last year, ballot selfies of any kind were banned in the state.

Under a 2019 settlement, voters are allowed to take a photo of their own ballots but only while they are within the voting booth. 

The settlement didn't change existing prohibitions on voters taking selfies of themselves, either in the voting booth or anywhere within the area where people are voting; taking any other type of photograph within the area where people are voting; and sharing images of a voted ballot within 100 feet from the polling place — the buffer zone where electioneering is prohibited. 

"We reached a resolution that allows voters to have a full opportunity to express themselves, while at the same time ensuring that voters retain the ability to vote in private and without disruption or discomfort,” Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in a news release announcing the settlement. “As Michigan’s chief election officer, I am committed to policies that encourage and support voter participation and engagement, along with elections that run smoothly and securely.”

The settlement was agreed upon in May 2019 after a nearly three-year case that challenged Michigan's restrictions on ballot selfies.

Plaintiff Joel Crookston sued the state in 2016, arguing his First Amendment right to free speech was unconstitutionally limited by state law and policies designed to discourage voter intimidation.

Michigan voters who have posted selfies say they appreciate being able to let their followers online know that they participated in the election and urge them to do the same.

"Majority of everyone is on social media ... so you can put your voice out there on social media and that encourages people to want to be a part and say, 'you know what, I'm going to go out and vote'," said Latoyua Hart, 35, of Detroit.

Marko Farion, 58, of Sterling Heights posted a selfie with his absentee ballot in the envelope to express his pride and sense of duty. 

For Farion, voting reminds him of the freedom his parents found when they emigrated to the U.S. in 1951 after being held in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Like Farion, many have taken to social media to express their enthusiasm over voting. 

"I feel it's a privilege to be able to vote ... it's always a proud moment when I vote, just thinking of how far my parents came ... we're grateful to be able to vote in America," he said.