Social media impacting decades-old law - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Social media impacting decades-old law

MARATHON CO. (WAOW) - Newsline 9 is taking a closer look at a decades-old law that has one Wisconsin mayor in hot water.

The law prohibits people from showing others marked ballots or making any marks on the ballot to identify it as your own.

Wisconsin Rapids Mayor Zach Vruwink is accused of breaking that law when he posted a picture of his ballot to Facebook last month. Vruwink said he didn't know he was breaking the law when he posted the picture. It has since been deleted.

The Wood County district attorney says he is bringing in a special prosecutor to determine if Vruwink will face any charges.

The law at debate has been around since 1974. But now, social media is making it easier to break.

Prosecutors say the law has sound reasoning behind it.

"One is buying votes, another may be that you could, I'm thinking more in the age today, where you could photo the ballot and reproduce the ballot based on that photo," said Theresa Wetzsteon, Marathon County deputy district attorney, who is not involved in handling the Wisconsin Rapids case.

Social media experts have several theories as to why people would post their ballots for the world to see.

"Perhaps it's a desire to model citizenship, or desire to communicate in a novel way," said Kym Buchanan, UW-Stevens Point School of Education associate professor. "Right now we're very fixated on pictures. People like to find pictures that communicate a lot of information very quickly and ballots would have that kind of power."

But many are rushing to defend Mayor Vruwink and criticize the law.

On Newsline 9's Facebook page, one commenter, Mark, said the case against the mayor is a waste of money. Another commenter, Monika, said it's a waste of public money, too.

Wetzsteon says she's never seen this particular violation prosecuted in Marathon County. But she still says the law is important.

"Voting, though, is something that is part of our basic rights in this country, something that is very near and dear to people. It's what makes our country great," said Wetzsteon. "I think that trying to protect the integrity of the voting process, when people violate that, it is taken pretty seriously."

It's taken so seriously that, in the Wisconsin Rapids case, Mayor Vruwink could face a felony. State election officials say it's up to district attorneys to enforce the law. It's punishable by prison time.

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