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Vruwink wrong to photograph ballot, but this is no hanging offense: Our View

3:20 PM, Mar. 27, 2014  |  Comments
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Taking a picture of a completed ballot is illegal in Wisconsin, and Mayor Zach Vruwink was wrong to do it. He admits as much, pleading ignorance of the law, and he is obviously telling the truth because there is no way the benefit he gained from one enthusiastic Facebook post could possibly be worth handing his political opponents an opportunity to take a shot at him. Steve Abrahamson, City Council candidate and gadfly, filed a complaint against Vruwink this week on the basis of the month-old post, embarrassing the mayor a few days before the local election.

The timing here is baldly political, but we suppose all is fair in political combat. Still, it's worth remembering that the law Vruwink violated is a dumb, outdated one, the sort of thing Abrahamson's conservative political principles might very well lead him to decry if it weren't a convenient weapon at the moment.

The point of the law forbidding ballot photographs is not to crack down on social media posts from young mayors. It's meant to keep Wisconsinites from selling their votes, on the theory that they would need to use a photo of the ballot as proof that they'd held up their end of the bargain. We have no idea if there has ever been an actual instance of this. But even if there were, why would it make sense to criminalize the taking of the photograph? Isn't it the act of selling the vote that ought to constitute the actual crime?

And since no one, not even Abrahamson, is accusing Vruwink of actually selling his vote, should we even care about this at all?

Well, sure, a little. Most people seem to have absorbed the state's admonitions against posting ballot pics, and Vruwink should have learned it, too. We're all responsible for following the law, even where the law is dumb.

But some perspective is also important here. Watergate this isn't. The republic will survive.

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