UK authorities are warning they will prosecute anyone taking a photo of themselves in polling booths in this weekends EU elections.
Most election day rules treat people as stupid automatons whose minds would be influenced by seeing a politically motivated poster, rosette or eating a cake.
Electoral reform campaigners argue that selfies in booths might encourage people to vote. They could help make voting fun and encourage others to vote.
But the one election day rule which is absolutely essential is the secret ballot.
If the people are so shallow that elections need to be egotistical entertainment, we might as well turn elections over to Simon Cowell and be done with it.
The motive for secret polls is primarily to stop your vote being successfully influenced by others. It allows you to vote as you intend without fear of reprisal.
The point of fines for breaking secrecy laws is to overcome the value of incentives that might be offered to prove you voted as requested by someone else.
The secrecy is not really about the right of each voter though – because we could (and do) choose to tell people who we voted for. The secrecy is effectively for the country, and for the maintaining the value of everyone else’s vote.
It’s also essential because when votes are paid for, the purchaser wants proof that the vote was bought. A booth photo is the perfect proof.
Westerners safe in the comfort of a slightly longer history of secret ballots than elsewhere may sniff at the idea of inducement and corruption at the ballot box. But the result of corrupt elections is so dangerous that we cannot let this critical element be watered down by a passing fad.
I have no trouble with photos being taken anywhere – inside the electoral hall, outside – whatever. but not in the voting booth. The booth is the one place sacrosanct to democracy; the place where despite the pleadings of politicians, the frippery, snobbery, and self-aggrandisement and self-justification, each voter gets to call it for what it all is; to keep the show going, or to start again.