Photography allowed in Chicago’s polling places?

The Polling Place Photo Project by the New York Times encourages Americans to photograph their polling place and submit their photos to their website. It sounds like a great project that would be fun to get Chicagoans in on. But are we technically allowed to take photos in polling places?

When I go into my polling place and start taking photos, I want some sort of official word about if I’m allowed to take photographs, so I emailed the Election Specialist for the Illinois State Board of Elections. Here’s his response:

Are we talking about people who are registered voters in a particular polling place incidentally taking a picture while inside of the polling place but outside of any voting booth and not depicting any unwilling other people? I don’t believe that Illinois Election law explicitly prohibits such a thing, and if done with no disruption to the voting process I wouldn’t expect any problems to arise from it.

If the people are not voters (or law enforcement or other poll watching personnel with proper credentials legitimately in the polling place), then such photography would not be permissible because the person would not be able to legally be in the polling place.

Similarly, no photographs should be taken within any poll booth (vote fraud issues), depicting anyone in a poll booth (violation of the right to a secret ballot). Nor could it be done showing unwilling people (privacy concerns and issues relating to voter intimidation) or in a way that disrupts the voting process.

I am aware that many election authorities, with appropriate prior notice so as to inform the poll workers and make the requisite arrangements, will permit media to take pictures in some polling places so as to have the appropriate visuals to accompany their stories. These visits are scheduled for lighter periods during the voting day so as to avoid disruption of the voting process.

Ken Menzel

Election Specialist

Illinois State Board of Elections

James R. Thompson Center

100 W. Randolph Street, Suite 14-100

Chicago, Illinois 60601

After my thank you response to him and asking his persmission to forward his email, he replied with a summary:

You may forward this message on if you so desire.

As to taking a photo when you go to your own polling place, the best advice I can give is to let the poll workers know before you do (it is simple courtesy as well as something that avoids any appearance of impropriety) and to be careful and respectful as to the other voters who have their own privacy rights at stake.


I must say that Ken was very kind to take the time to type out that explanation. It makes me happy that we have government officials who do respond to the public.

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13 years ago

Ken Menzel’s words are very thoughtful. However, I would seriously, seriously doubt that they would allow you to take photos. Even if you try to plan some arrangement beforehand. Think of all the volunteers and workers at a polling place. It takes only one of them to deem such activies as unfit. It’s interesting in this day and age when digital photography is so commonplace that people are hypersensitive about the medium. I’d think that people would become accustomed to some “kid” with their SLR or cameraphone snapping pictures in any sort of environment. Part of the paranoia is related to 9/11 and terrorism. However, I think a large portion of the paranoia is a generation gap. Older people don’t like “kids” running around snapping pictures of everything because the older generation did not grow up with such opportunistic technology. The cost for film, developing film, and printing photographs prevented people from taking photos anywhere and everywhere that we now see in the digital age. Personally, I wouldn’t risk getting kicked out and as a result, losing my opportunity to vote because some 80 year old volunteer thinks there should be no photography. This election is too important for someone to rob me of my vote.

13 years ago

Yea, it’ll be tricky getting a photo in a polling booth with no people in it, cuz everyone is gonna be out voting for OBAMA! Oh yea!

13 years ago

Hi i am new comer to this site……… I am very happy to join this site……… I gathered lot of information from this site…… I enjoyed when i read those posts in this site……. We’re launching a project to collect photos of as many area polling places as possible before the election. Do you know where your polling place is? Do you pass it everyday? Snap a photo of it and tag it “pollingplace” to be included. jack __________________________ Link Building

13 years ago

Hmm, I wonder what “vote fraud” issues might arise from the fact that I took a picture of me tapping the screen in my own polling booth – since that’s what I did. Despite the fact that I was using a D40, hardly a stealthy camera, no one noticed or said anything. I was already rummaging in my backpack to get out my ballot cheat-sheet (stupid judicial elections!), so that provided good enough cover I guess.

Leigh Hanlon
13 years ago

We supposedly cast ballots in secret, so how can they know that you’ve photographed yourself voting?

caderea parului
13 years ago

I live in Chicago and this morning my polling place was using big paper ballots where we had to use a black pen and fill in arrows that pointed to the candidates we voted for.It was a bit clunky but it provides a real good audit trail. For something as important as registering the voice of we the people I would rather use a low tech and highly auditable method like paper ballots.

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