Iowa: Documenting the 2012 Vote

Note: This page covers information specific to Iowa. For general information regarding legal issues associated with documenting your vote, see the Documenting the Vote 2012 page.

Photography Inside the Polling Place 

Iowa limits access to the polling area to specific people, but includes in that list "reporters, photographers, and other staff representing the news media. However, representatives of the news media, while present at or in the immediate vicinity of the polling places, shall not interfere with the election process in any way." Iowa Code § 49.104(8). The express inclusion of "photographers" suggests that recording is allowed in polling places.

This is further reinforced by the Iowa Secretary of State's guidelines on election operation, which instruct local election officials to handle media inquiries as follows:

  • Allow members of the media to be inside the polling place to take photographs or film activity, but do not allow them to interfere with the voting process. Members of the media cannot take images of how a voter marks or has marked a ballot.

  • [Election officials] should ask members of the media to identify themselves and to show identification.

  • Restrict interviews with voters until voters have cast ballots and are outside of the polling place. Members of the media should obtain permission from a voter to use the voter’s name and/or image.

  • [Officials] may answer questions from or provide comments to members of the media only when authorized to do so by the auditor. Auditors should talk to their [officials] to let them know the auditor’s expectations concerning media relations.

(See page 16.) Neither the Iowa Code nor the Secretary of State articulate how they determine who qualifies as a member of the media subject to this access, so it is unclear how Iowa will approach non-traditional or citizen reporting requests. Contact your local precinct for additional information.

Even if you are allowed to record, be careful not to disturb voters. Iowa Code prohbits "[i]nterrupting, hindering, or opposing a voter while in or approaching the polling place for the purpose of voting," "[e]ndeavoring to induce a voter to show how the voter marks or has marked a ballot," and "[i]nterfering or attempting to interfere with a voter when the voter is inside the enclosed voting space, or when the voter is marking a ballot." Iowa Code § 39A.4.

Photography Outside the Polling Place

Iowa Code § 39A.4(1)(a)(1) prohibits "[l]oitering, congregating, electioneering, posting signs, treating voters, or soliciting votes, during the receiving of the ballots, either on the premises of a polling place or within three hundred feet of an outside door of a building affording access to a room where the polls are held, or of an outside door of a building affording access to a hallway, corridor, stairway, or other means of reaching the room where the polls are held." (Emphasis added.) This is a very large buffer zone compared to other states. No reported cases impose any limitations on this broad prohibition.

The Iowa Secretary of State's guidelines state the following concerning exit polling activity:

People conducting surveys or exit polls are not permitted inside the polling place. In addition, they may not be inside the building in which the polling place is located or in the building’s entryway regardless of weather or any other adverse condition. They must be outside the building but may be within 300 feet of the building or the entrance to the building used by voters entering the polling place.

(Page 16.)

Recording Your Own Ballot

Voters are preventing from using devices that would record a ballot. Iowa Code § 49.88 states that "[t]he use of cameras, cellular telephones, pagers, or other electronic communications devices in the voting booth is prohibited." This would seem to prohibit the use of any device that would allow you to capture a photograph or video of your ballot. A separate prohibition applies to "[e]ndeavoring to induce a voter to show how the voter marks or has marked a ballot," Iowa Code § 39A.4(1)(a)(5), but it is unclear whether courts would apply this to the disclosure of one's own ballot.


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