President Obama photo removed from Bluffton absentee-voting office

tbarton@islandpacket.comOctober 26, 2012 

This official photo of President Barack Obama is similar to one that hung at the absentee-voting office in Bluffton.

COURTESY OF WHITEHOUSE.GOV

A photo of President Barack Obama at a Bluffton absentee-voting precinct has stirred complaints, leading the county's elections chief to remove it.

Sun City Hilton Head resident and poll observer Arthur Broska complained to the Beaufort County Board of Voter Registration and Elections that the picture violated state law governing unlawful distribution of campaign literature.

County elections director Scott Marshall disagrees, but decided that keeping it up wasn't worth the distraction it was causing.

Marshall said the picture, hung in an office visible through the customer service window at the Bluffton voter registration office on Ulmer Road, was an official White House photo of the president, not a campaign photo.

"The photo is hung in government offices nationwide and is allowed to be hung in the election office because it doesn't represent the man or the candidate, but the office of president of the United States," Marshall said.

Nonetheless, Marshall said he took the picture down more than a week ago "because it was becoming a distraction to being able to assist voters."

"It was consuming too much of my time fielding phone calls," he said. "We need to focus on helping the voter and preparing for the Nov. 6 general election, not a picture on the wall."

State law prohibits campaign literature and posters within 200 feet of polling places, and it is up to a county elections board to determine whether the photo is "campaign material," according to Chris Whitmire, director of public information for the State Election Commission.

"I don't know of any court cases or other (attorney general) opinions that have dealt with the specific scenario you describe," Whitmire wrote in an email to The Island Packet.

Marshall said the photo, which shows the president in suit and tie with the American flag in the background, does not display the president's name or office, or use the words "vote, elect, choose, select, candidate" or similar phrase.

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