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A voting no-no
November 13, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

When it comes to voting, San Mateo County seems to have an awful lot of civic pride and duty. Just look at the every-increasing voter turnout numbers. Residents here sure like to weigh in on important stuff.

Seems, though, like the county also has a handful of voting scofflaws. That’s right; call in the international voting rights folks and start patrolling the polls. People are not abiding by the election code and it is worrisome.

I’m not talking about the reported "thugs” in the Redwood City area that were reportedly asking people for their photo identification outside of polling places, frightening some and angering others. As an aside, the idea of voting "thugs” is a little funny only because the term is usually associated with a more gang-oriented, less electorally-inclined element. Have the Norteños and Sureños recently gone partisan with gang colors matching up with party lines? Maybe it was Mara Salvatrucha for Mitt or Bloods for Barack. In any case, we don’t know because the suspects remain at large.

The criminals certainly aren’t making phone calls to the local elderly and home-bound contingent as they were in other parts of the country. Folks there reported receiving calls from people identifying themselves as voting officials and telling recipients to cast ballots over the line. Why make that pesky trip to the polls? Just vote now. Sure, it will count.

Let’s hope these ingenious individuals take a pesky trip to jail. Hanging chads and vote-changing machine aside, Election Day results are challenging enough to tally; we don’t need humans adding an extra layer of skepticism.

The local criminals could be sign stealers. Every season has its spate of that; consider it the adult version of egging a rival’s car or toilet papering their home because they dare run opposite for student body president. In years past, incidents — one Burlingame event, in particular — have led to legal slaps on the wrist and a hefty dose of embarrassment. But if you’re going to go down, do you really want it to be for traipsing across a lawn and removing a sign eventually bound for the trash heap anyway? When in doubt at least the thieves can blame it on too many glasses of chardonnay and rallying propaganda at the political mixer beforehand. Likewise, is it much better for the image to be the guy or gal who spent the night staked out with a flashlight to catch that rascal sign stealer? Did campaign signs even really make that much of a difference?

Perhaps its different in Menlo Park where at the very least reputations tarnished due to alleged sign stealing are at stake. A gentlemen identified as a potential sign stealer to the press and police is now suing his accusers for defamation.

Ah, the fun of politics is usually what doesn’t happen at all in the voting booth or the privacy of an absentee balloter’s own home.

Except, when talking about the latest election crime wave, the booth and ballot is important. The crime in question is taking a photograph of one’s completed ballot and posting it online for all the world to see how they voted. That’s right. Generations have fought and pushed to keep voting confidential, to ensure that voters feel comfortable making their own choices without ramification and can easily claim to feel one way while actually casting a ballot to the opposite.

All that out the window for those voters with a soft spot for smartphones and Instagram.

Trumpeting such enthusiasm isn’t surprising; supporters have spent months if not years sharing their allegiance to the world with bumper stickers, T-shirts, pins, heck even facial tattoos (A Romney/Ryan supporter; look it up). Why not also the ballots themselves? Maybe because it is illegal.

Of course, looking at the Election Day postings, seems some celebs didn’t really care. Their posts and tweets were re-posted and re-tweeted which in all likelihood fed the drive of the less famous to follow suit. And it’s probably fair to say the those on both sides of the paparazzi spectrum had no idea that what they were doing is totally against the law.

Specifically, Elections Code 14291 states: "After the ballot is marked, a voter shall not show it to any person in such a way as to reveal its contents.”

Sorry, proud Facebookers. Your candid camera has caught you making a big no-no.

But don’t feel bad if you didn’t know the practice wasn’t allowed. Even our local elections head honcho had to look it up when asked after first expressing extreme surprise it was even happening.

People are really doing that? he asked incredulously, before adding rightfully that he doesn’t understand why some post online half the things they do.

Him and me both.

This just goes to show two things — first the election code as written might need a little updating someday to accommodate the ever-changing world. Our forefathers and elections officials even a decade or so back probably couldn’t imagine a world of permanent absentee ballots, online registration, electronic signatures, online ballot tracking and ADA-compliant machinery. The times they are a changing.

The other thing this practice illustrates is that this is also a time of extreme oversharing. If somebody really wants to tell the world how they voted, so be it. Type a few words, use a few emoticons. Just don’t snap a photo even if prosecutors have much better things to do than round up social media fanatics.

The point of the election is to consider laws, not break them.

Michelle Durand’s column "Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor:

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