Although you wouldn't guess from photographs available online (here, here, here, and here), North Carolina law places heavy restrictions on photography and videography inside polling places on Election Day. Section 163-166.3(b) of the North Carolina General Statutes says that no person may "photograph, videotape, or otherwise record the image of any voter within the voting enclosure, except with the permission of both the voter and the chief judge of the precinct." Depending on the attitude of the chief poll worker at your precinct towards photography and videography, this amounts to a near-prohibition on using recording devices inside the "voting enclosure," which means "the room within the voting place that is used for voting." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-165.
Section 163-166.3(c) goes further. It expressly prohibits you from photographing, videoing, or otherwise recording "the image of a voted official ballot for any purpose not otherwise permitted under law." This means that you cannot photograph or video any one else's ballot, which is something to avoid in any state regardless of specific prohibition. But this also means you cannot film or photograph your own marked ballot. Note that that section 163-166.3 prohibits using cameras and video equipment inside polling places (absent permission under subsection (b)); it does not expressly prohibit bringing such devices (including cell phones) inside with you.
Outside of the polling place, North Carolina law does not expressly prohibit using a camera or video recorder. Section 163-166.4 creates a buffer zone (no less than 25 and no greater than 50 feet) around the polling place, in which it is unlawful to "hinder access, harass others, distribute campaign literature, place political advertising, solicit votes, or otherwise engage in election‑related activity." To be completely safe, you may want to take photographs or film outside the buffer zone, so as to avoid "harass[ing] others" or 'hinder[ing] access." However, the law probably permits you to photograph and film in this zone if your activity is not disruptive or intimidating. If you want to interview other voters, you should get their permission first and do your interview outside the buffer zone.
In April 2008, the North Carolina State Board of Elections issued a press release presenting guidelines for poll workers and media representatives regarding the use of cameras and recording equipment at polling places. In a telephone conversation, a state official told us that these guidelines should apply equally to members of the public who wish to engage in newsgathering activities at the polls in North Carolina. The guidelines are:
- Members of the media have a First Amendment right to report on matters of public interest, including elections.
- Members of the media, if they enter the buffer zone or voting enclosure, should identify themselves to the chief judge.
- Members of the media must conduct media polls and interviews outside the buffer zone. By law, the buffer zone is set at 50 feet from the entrances of the building in which the polling location is located.
- Precinct officials may state to media the number of persons who have voted, but no opinions should be given as to the effect of such voting numbers.
- With the cooperation of election officials, members of the media may be briefly inside the voting enclosure to take a panoramic photograph or video of the voting place but are not permitted to use a zoom lens that could show the individual voter in the process of voting. Outside the buffer zone, the media is free to photograph or video in a non-disruptive manner.
- Members of the media should be positioned so that they will
not interfere, obstruct, or disrupt the voting process. They are not
allowed inside the enclosure unless they are there to vote or otherwise
invited in by election officials. After the polls close the media and
public are allowed inside the enclosure, but may not hinder the
operations of the lection officials.
- Members of the media should be treated with respect.
- Election officials are to report problems with media personnel to the board of elections office.