Is taking a ballot selfie illegal?

SAN BENITO — People are using their cell phones to snap photos of everything from their meals to their weight on a scale.

Now, more and more are taking photos of the ballots they cast at the voting booth.

As local elections heat up, residents want to know the law surrounding so-called “ballot selfies.”

Across much of the country, even the laws surrounding ballot selfies appear unclear.

While Texas law prohibits the use of cell phones in polling places, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled ballot selfies are an expression of free speech, Remi Garza, Cameron County’s elections administrator, said.

Texas law prohibits the use of cell phones within 100 feet of a polling place.

“The presiding judge may require a person who violated this section to turn off the device or leave the polling place,” the law states.

But federal law trumps state law.

“The Supreme Court decision changes the nature of how (cell phones) can be used,” Garza said. “It’s one of the fundamental rights people have.”

Garza said some residents appear concerned about the ballot selfies.

“As of now, we have only received phone calls regarding this issue, and I have spoken to some citizens directly,” Garza said. “However, we have not received any written complaint.”

Garza said ballot selfies might even have their place in getting out the vote.

“A lot of these selfies are used to encourage voters to go to the polls, so they might have a positive effect,” Garza said.

Although they may be legal, some residents have concerns.

“It’s confusing,” Alex Leal, a retired businessman, said yesterday.

Leal said Mayor Ben Gomez sent him a text message showing an image of a ballot indicating votes cast for San Benito school board candidates.

“It made me feel very uncomfortable,” Leal said. “It’s coming from the mayor, so does he want me to vote for these people? To me, voting is a personal thing.”

Leal said he filed a police report regarding Gomez’s text message but the officer told him laws did not address his complaint.

“He told me basically there’s no punishment,” Leal said.

Police Chief Michael Galvan could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, City Commissioner Esteban Rodriguez accused Gomez of using his position to influence the election.

“He is the mayor of San Benito,” Rodriguez said. “To me, it looks like he’s trying to sway the election. (Elected officials) are held at a higher standard. We should know better than to do something like that.”

Gomez did not respond to a message requesting comment.

Commissioner Carol Lynn Sanchez might have been ahead of the trend.

For six years, Sanchez, who is seeking re-election, has posted her ballot on her Facebook page.

But when she posted her ballot this week, Rodriguez and Leal questioned whether she was using her position to influence the vote.

“Ethically, it’s wrong,” Rodriguez said.

However, Sanchez stands by her decision to post her ballot selfie.

“It’s freedom of speech,” Sanchez said. “I like to express the fact that I have that right.”

Like Garza, she believes ballot selfies help draw voters to the polls.

“We lack getting the younger generation to vote,” Sanchez said. “We are now in a new mobile era so there is a new generation coming up and I want to encourage them to come out and vote.”