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OPINION - The ballot photo

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) In Wisconsin its illegal to take a photograph of your absentee ballot. At first I had no idea why we had such a law. There is an explanation. Suppose a union boss tells all his members that Candidate A is the union-approved choice, and, not only is everyone in the brotherhood expected to vote for him, but theyll need to provide proof to keep their kneecaps from being broken. So you'd snap a picture of your absentee ballot to keep the tire-iron at bay. Got it.

Ballot photos could also be used by people who are willing to sell their vote. You pay me $25; I'll vote for your man. The picture of my absentee ballot is proof that I upheld my half of the bargain.

So, although I've never thought much about it, the ban on taking pictures of your ballot makes sense in the name of free and fair elections.

Wisconsin Rapids mayor Zach Vruwink didnt realize he was breaking the law when he took a picture of his absentee ballot. He posted it on Facebook, hoping to encourage his supporters to get to the polls. Doing so is a felony, and a city-council candidate filed a complaint with the Wood County DAs office. Yesterday it was announced that a special prosecutor would review the case and decide what happens next.

This is ridiculous.

While ignorance of the law is no excuse, criminal intent is required to prosecute. And in this case, there is none.

Mayor Vruwink was not proving to some tuff that he voted the right way. He was not selling his vote. He's a candidate running for reelection. Of course he voted for himself.

When he was told that there was a law against taking pictures of your ballot, he took the picture down from his Facebook page and notified the Government Accountability Board.

Theres no question that Vruwink broke the law. But this is a crime where there is no identifiable motive, where the perpetrator got no benefit, and where there is no victim. No jury would return a guilty verdict under those circumstances. And a prosecutor is supposed to review all cases through the lens of whether a conviction is likely. Lets hope common sense wins out, and this matter is dropped.

Chris Conley
3.28.14

Photo:Voters cast their ballots on November 6, 2012 (Chris Keane/Courtesy Reuters) via wsau.com