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One of my friends claims that

If you vote in the 2014 US Congress election, any person can find out who you voted for.

I searched around, and the consensus appears to be that this is not allowed or possible. However, my friend claims that they can associate the ballot with your ID and that they will store this information as well as give out this information to anyone who asks. Is there a federal law that prohibits a person from finding this information?

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  1. Practically, it depends

    • This is definitely impossible at the very least where I live, or any other place that uses voting machines (as opposed to hand-filled ballots)

      • The voting machines are anonymous - you show your ID to a volunteer to gain access to the machine (and they do NOT record anywhere when that happened, merely tick off the checkbox against your name). Once you do that, the machine itself does NOT know who you are. You don't sign anything or scan/copy your ID into it. The ballots are inside the machine and nobody sees them until AFTER everyone voted and the polls close, at which point nobody can associate the ballot with a person.
    • OTOH, some localities have paper ballots with IDs.

      • In Michigan, the identifyable portion of the ballot is removed before depositing it (weak source)

      • In Colorado, they are not (source):

        However, even if it's possible to identify a voter from a ballot in such locales, publically disclosing that information is illegal:

        By law, ballots are sealed and stored for 25 months after an election before they are destroyed. Clerks can be held criminally liable if they disclose how a person voted.


  2. Legally:

    In Colorado, a Secretary of State Scott Gessler found that there is no Constitutional right to a secret ballot, when ID barcodes on ballots were challenged in 2012.


  3. Other public information:

    What your friend may have been confusing this with was:

    • Political donations. Those are, indeed, public information and you can check who donated what amount to whose campaign.

    • Voting record (e.g. when did you vote) - remember that checkmark that the volunteer placed against your name before letting you access the voting machine? That's recorded and is a public information

    • Party affiliation (which political party are you registered with, if any).

      In practice you will find that many people vote the party line - which means their party registration, if any, is a good predictor of who they voted for. But that's not "associating a ballot with ID" by any stretch of imagination.

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    You are probably right for the most part. Most voting at a polling place that I am aware of, the voter identifies themselves and the poll worker gives them an anonymous ballot with no identifying marks. Apparently though, secret ballots aren't required by the constitution. Additionally, candidates know if you voted in an election or a primary. This Voter File information is available for a fee, or sometimes for free.
    – user1873
    Sep 25 '14 at 5:58
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    @user1873 - A bit late, but I always enjoy pointing out that ballots aren't required by the constitution either. Each state has the right to determine how to choose their own electors which is not necessarily a popular vote. There'd be a huge uproar if a State decided to change it, but they have the theoretical power to do so.
    – Bobson
    Feb 1 '15 at 21:27

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