Voting selfies: An election tradition for the social media age

Published November 5 2018
Updated November 6 2018

There were no smartphones, and certainly no portrait modes, in the mid 1980s when someone first applied an "I Voted" sticker to their body and strutted out of a polling place walking taller, feeling more radiant, knowing they’d done their civic duty, and soon so would everyone else who gazed upon them.

It was a couple more decades before the "I Voted" selfie arrived, but the social media tradition of snapping a photo of yourself after filling out your ballot has much the same aim as those stickers: to remind (or shame) people into remembering it’s voting time. To instill patriotic FOMO. To make voting look cool.

An "I Voted" sticker is, of course, an essential accessory for every voter selfie. It can be placed on an artistically manicured hand, or a dog’s collar or a Storm Trooper action figure, but it absolutely must appear in the frame as a seal of authenticity.

The most common spots for voter selfies seem to be on the sidewalk or back in the car. You may find rare examples of the voter selfie subgenre, the "ballot selfie," online, but taking photos of your ballot in Florida is technically illegal.

The voter selfie isn’t anything new this year, but it does feel more organized than ever before after Taylor Swift’s #JustVoted Instagram campaign went viral. The singer, who has more than 100 million followers on Instagram alone, has turned her account into a gallery of fans who voted early or registered to vote for the first time recently.

There’s no way to know how much it has worked, but Florida surpassed 5 million early voters this week to set a new record, and the youth vote in particular has surged.

"People at work were asking me about early voting after they saw that I’d went with a friend," said St. Petersburg native and Fort Lauderdale resident Emily Walsh, 32, who posted a post-vote selfie with James Englehardt, 25, who had voted for the first time. "We talked about it before we went in. We had to make sure he got one."

For St. Petersburg’s Mario Farias, 61, and wife Susan Farias, 56, the voter selfie is important, but also romantic.

"We, as a couple, love to vote together, and we’ve done it in every election since we got married," Mario Farias said. "It was our pledge to each other. ... We post the picture to hopefully encourage other couples.

"I saw one whole family who stood on the steps of City Hall after they voted, multiple generations, taking a selfie together. It was inspiring."

Politico and the New York Times labeled the 2016 elections the "selfie election," noting how the days of kissing babies had given way to candidates’ constantly being forced to pose for phone photos with voters. But that’s campaigning, and the voter selfie is something different.

Scroll through enough voter selfies and you’ll see they’re often nonpartisan and frequently not even political.

Curt Wiser, a 38-year-old filmmaker and entertainment technician in Orlando, said he felt inspired to take a selfie after voting, but was careful to keep it politically neutral because "the division in our country feels out of control right now."

"In college I learned the hard way not to argue politics," he said. "With this post I just wanted people to vote because ... if enough people vote it will lead to what is best for our nation."

Same went for Orlando’s Jason Drake, 46, who said, "I don’t like to talk politics on social media, it turns into a war, but I want people to vote."

That doesn’t mean the voter selfie can’t be political. For Natalia Jaramillo, a native of Columbia who lives in Hollywood, it was a chance to promote #TeamGillum on Instagram, and also to document a milestone. She voted in the last presidential election, but it’s her first time voting for governor since becoming a citizen.

"I wanted to let people know that Latinas are voting for Gillum," she said. "But also, I was just really excited to be voting for governor."

In the end, though, a good voter selfie is the same as any good social media post: attention grabbing and maybe a little weird.

Shannon Sullivan, 27, of Palm Bay snapped her selfie dressed as Wednesday Addams from the Addams Family.

"Yeah, I voted in my Halloween costume," she said. "I just thought it would be fun ... and a good reminder to vote."

Contact Christopher Spata at cspata@tampabay.com. Follow @SpataTimes on Twitter.

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