Don’t Pay for a Vote and Don’t Take a Selfie with Your Ballot: A Georgia Election Law Primer

The solicitor for the City of South Fulton has been in the news for a creative way to get people registered to vote: offering a $50 discount off their traffic ticket if they will register on the spot. While we want every eligible person registered so they can vote, the solicitor ran afoul of one of the many laws governing elections that most people don’t realize apply.

Money and people voting don’t mix: Georgia law makes clear that it is illegal to give someone money or a gift (usually interpreted as anything of value) in exchange for (1) that person registering to vote, (2) that person voting, and (3) that person voting for a particular candidate. When a federal candidate is on the ballot, it’s also a violation of federal law.

Companies that want to encourage voting have been caught by these laws in the past when they offer discounts or free items for voting. Krispy Kreme offered to give free donuts when you wore an “I Voted” sticker. Ben & Jerry’s tried to give away free ice cream if you voted. Starbucks was going to give out free coffee to voters. As sweet as these offers would have been, each company had to switch its promotion to give the free products to everyone on Election Day. Why is that a fix? Because as long as the free stuff goes to everyone — not just voters — it is not considered a gift in exchange for voting.

So what about the offers from Uber and Lyft to give voters free rides to the polls on Election Day? Efforts that help people actually vote are not considered giving something of value in exchange for a vote. While a ride to the polls may be of incredible value to someone, it is not a violation of the statutory prohibitions because it is helping them vote. If Uber or Lyft offered an additional free ride after the trip to the polls, then they would have a problem. But as long as it’s a free ride to the polls and back, there’s no legal issue.

Another often-overlooked election law is Georgia’s prohibition on taking a picture of your ballot. Everyone carries a camera today and well-meaning citizens often want to celebrate their support of a candidate. But Georgia law specifically prohibits taking a picture of your ballot.

Resist the desire for that precinct selfie as well. Georgia law also prohibits the use of a camera in a polling place without the permission of the local election board. Wait until you get outside of the polling place and take your selfie there.

Finally, don’t miss the prohibitions on campaigning inside a polling location. As much as you love your preferred candidate, Georgia law does not allow you to solicit votes or wear campaign materials within 150 feet of the outside of the building housing your polling place. If there’s a line that extends beyond 150 feet, you also can’t get closer than 25 feet to any voter if you are campaigning.

Election Day is a great day to celebrate our rights as citizens. The opportunity to elect our leaders is a privilege that relatively few people in all of human history have enjoyed. Don’t spoil that opportunity by running afoul of one of these election laws.

Bryan Tyson is an appellate and election law attorney with Tyson Strategies LLC and is Counsel at Strickland Brockington Lewis LLP. This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to, and does not, constitute legal advice or a legal opinion.