Virginia: Documenting the 2012 Vote

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

Virginia election law may affect your ability to use video or still photography in and around your polling place, as well as your ability to interview other voters at the polls.  The following provisions may be important to you:

Prohibited Zone

Section 24.2-604(A) of the Virginia Code creates a 40-foot "Prohibited Area" around the entrance to the polling place.  In this area, you may not (1) "loiter or congregate"; (2) engage in electioneering activities or otherwise attempt to influence any person in voting; or (3) "hinder or delay a qualified voter in entering or leaving a polling place."  Given the restrictions on loitering and hindering or delaying a voter, you should not try to interview other voters in the Prohibited Area.  Taking photographs and shooting video in this area does not appear to violate section 24.2-604, unless you hinder a voter or stand around long enough to be "loitering." Outside of this 40-foot zone, you are free to take photographs, shoot video, and interview voters (with permission), as long as you are not on someone's private property.

Inside the Polling Room

Section 24.2-604(D) regulates activities inside the polling room.  It does not expressly prohibit the use of cameras or video recorders by voters.  Instead, it prohibits activities similar to those outlawed in the Prohibited Area outside: (1) hindering or delaying a voter; (2) giving out campaign material; (3) soliciting or attempting to influence any person's vote; (4) hindering and delaying any officer of election; and (5) impeding the orderly conduct of the election. This would appear to permit voters to take photographs or shoot video inside a Virginia polling place, so long as their conduct does not hinder or delay any other voter or otherwise interfere with the voting process.

Note, however, that section 24.2-604(C) directly prohibits photography or recording by authorized party representatives, and election officials might interpret this ban to apply to voters as well under their general authority to maintain order in the polling place. County election officials may adopt rules/policies banning or discouraging the use of this equipment inside of a polling place in order to avoid interference with other voters or the process of voting. 

Therefore, you should check with your local officials before Election Day if you are interested in using a camera inside the polls. If allowed to record, you should avoid using your camera in any way that might reveal the contents of another voter's marked ballot.  See Va. Code § 24.2-607 (making it a crime to "hinder, intimidate, or interfere with any qualified voter so as to prevent the voter from casting a secret ballot").

Photographing or Videoing Your Own Marked Ballot

Section 24.2-604(D) of the Virginia Code states, in part, that "it shall be unlawful for any ... voter ...  to ... exhibit any ballot ... to any person[.]" In addition, section 24.2-1011 prohibits carrying "an official ballot or copy thereof beyond or away from the voting booth." These statutes together would appear to prohibit the photographing or videotaping of one's ballot as well as the display of images of a ballot to others.

Representatives of the News Media

Section 24.2-604(J) gives "representatives of the news media" express permission to "visit and film or photograph inside the polling place for a reasonable and limited period of time while the polls are open." It imposes four restrictions, however: the media (1) must comply with the other restrictions found in section 24.2-604 (relating to prohibited activities in the 40-foot zone and inside the polling room); (2) must not film or photograph any person who specifically asks not to be filmed or photographed; (3) must not film or photograph a voter or a ballot in such a way that divulges how any individual voter is voting; and (4) must not film or photograph the voter list or any other voter record or material at the precinct in such a way that it divulges the name or other information concerning any individual voter. Subsection J also states that "[a]ny interviews with voters, candidates or other persons, live broadcasts, or taping of reporters' remarks, shall be conducted outside of the polling place and the prohibited area."

The statute does not define "representatives of the news media," and the CMLP has not been able to determine whether non-traditional journalists and bloggers fit into this category.  We suggest that you contact the Virginia State Board of Elections or your local board of elections for more information. Virginia has also published online Media Guidelines for coverage of the 2012 elections, available here. Regardless of your status, any voter who brings a camera or recorder inside the polling place would do well to honor the restrictions imposed on the media.


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