As New Yorkers trudge through lousy weather and hours-long lines to cast their votes in the 2020 election, many will be tempted to mark the occasion on social media with photos of their completed ballots. But while the “ballot selfie” may be a perennial part of the modern day voting experience, the self-affirming act is still against the law in New York.
That didn't stop Melissa DeRosa, the highest-ranking member of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration. In a post to her private Instagram account on Thursday, DeRosa, who played a role in advising the state’s pandemic election policies, posted an Instagram Story showing her own completed ballot.
Douglas Kellner, co-chairman of the State Board of Elections, told Gothamist there was no question that DeRosa's post broke state law. “If it's a marked ballot, it's a misdemeanor,” he said. “The statute is unambiguous.”
The law dates back to the 19th century, when legislators, seeking to deter widespread vote-buying, aimed to make it harder to prove that a bribe was consummated. The ban survived a court challenge in 2017, with a federal judge ruling that the law helped ensure the integrity of elections, while reducing the risk that outside influencers, such as employers, would exert power over people’s votes.
Though the law is rarely enforced, ballot selfie scofflaws can be punished by a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
Rich Azzopardi, a senior advisor to Cuomo, defended DeRosa’s message. “The insta-story — which by definition lasts 24 hours then disappears — was taken down once this antiquated law was pointed out by Gothamist,” he said. “Melissa is a proud democrat and doesn’t apologize for that.”
While DeRosa is certainly not alone in advertising her ballot, the private Instagram post has rankled some Democrats for another reason: the photo’s caption, “Row A all the way,” mirrors that of a state party slogan seen as attacking the Working Families Party.
The stalwart progressive party is facing an existential threat this year, thanks to a rule change supported by the Cuomo administration, which more than doubled the number of votes required for the WFP to maintain its ballot line. The change has intensified a longstanding intra-party feud, resurfacing claims that Cuomo is seeking exact vengeance on the WFP for endorsing his primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, in 2018.
Earlier this week, the State Democratic Party circulated an ad urging New Yorkers to vote on their own line, rather than the WFP’s column. “VOTE ROW A DEMOCRATIC - ALL THE WAY,” read the mailer, which the party spent $357,000 to distribute.
The Cuomo administration has strenuously denied playing any role in the alleged campaign to defeat the 22-year-old political party, repeatedly dismissing the allegation as an unfounded conspiracy theory.
But New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who ran on the WFP line, said that DeRosa’s message served as further proof that the Governor’s Office was not independent in the fight over WFP’s future.
“There are only a couple of people who don't want you to vote on the Working Families Party line: Republicans, Conservatives and Governor Andrew Cuomo. Kudos to them for finally admitting it,” Williams said in a statement.
In response, Azzopardi told Gothamist: “Bullshit. Knock it off.”
He likened the notion that Cuomo is attempting to eliminate the WFP to a conspiracy on par with QAnon, which alleges that a cabal of cannibalistic pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring.
“This is the most consequential election of our lives and I think the less dumb conspiracy fodder that’s out there, the better,” Azzopardi added.
The Working Families Party did not respond to a request for comment.
Shortly after Gothamist inquired about DeRosa’s photo, the ballot selfie was removed.