Murals in Schools and Election Polls

We’re not going to get into US Election Day analysis, that’s been done ad-nauseum since last week. But one story that’s been sticking out in our minds are the reports from multiple sources about campaign materials and images being posted in polling locations where voters cast their ballots on Election Day.

Perhaps the most widely cited example is this image  from Philadelphia’s Ward 35, Franklin Elementary School. But other examples have surfaced in Washington, DC and Florida as well.

Pennsylvania election law states “no person within a polling place may electioneer or solicit votes for any political party, political body, or candidate, nor may any unauthorized written or  printed materials be posted within the polling place.” Fairly simple and straightforward–even for government legalspeak. A candidate’s campaign materials should not be posted inside a polling place.

The Republican State Committee of Pennsylvania brought a complaint to a local judge, Pamela Pryor Dembe. As the rhetoric began to escalate, she is reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer as stating, “I find it ludicrous to think that somebody’s vote is going to be changed by a mural on the wall. So curb your enthusiasm, if you will.” The Inquirer report also quotes some local officials as saying the concern is “much ado about nothing.”

From the judge to the city’s legal counsel, there is a failure to understand the issue at hand. Luckily, we are here to help with that.

The United States is a Republic with strong democratic traditions. One feature of a Republic is respecting the rights of the minority. Otherwise the 50% + 1 can run roughshod over the 50% – 1 and eliminate their freedoms. A popular illustration of this idea is the iconic “democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what’s for dinner” anecdote. Protecting the rights and freedom of those not in power is a principle well showcased in the Constitution.  Curbs on power were designed to ensure a basic level of rights that may not be changed without supermajorities agreeing to the proposed changes.

To the people who do not support the president, seeing this wall mural in a government building is not acceptable. The school–which is supposed to be nonpartisan–also serving as a place where people cast their ballots (also supposed to be nonpartisan) should not be engaged in partisan activities. We could see a wall mural with President Obama to be legitimate if it were part of a mural including all presidents, or we could find it acceptable if the president is no longer serving in office. But posting the image on the wall of a school for someone still in office–who is running for reelection and where ballots are cast–is too close to an active endorsement of that person’s policies for our comfort.

This begs 3 very big questions:

1. Why did it take a complaint from local GOP party officials and a court order to fully cover the mural?

2. Once the court order was issued, why was it acceptable to half-heartedly cover it with ballot instructions–leaving the campaign logo visible–as the image to the right shows? This was in violation of the court order to fully cover the mural.

3. Why is campaign paraphernalia in a school, which many–but sadly not all–agree should be an apolitical place of learning?

We think that to ensure freedom, it is inappropriate to post such murals in both schools and in polling places. Because a school, in many cases, is a government institution, a presidential portrait would seem appropriate, but the presence of a stylized wall mural, to include the campaign logo is offensive to our sense of fair play.

It also speaks to an idea of “the cult of the presidency”, or this idea that the president can accomplish anything he or she has a mind to do and out to get anything they want…because they’re the president. This is similar to the stylized murals we find of dictators in other countries (examples below) and is not an idea we believe should flourish in a free society. More on this in a later post.

And least anyone accuse us of being one-sided, we did look for examples of Romney images in GOP-friendly polling places. But our research was not able to find any examples of Mitt Romney campaign materials inside of polling places–let alone schools. If you have evidence, please let us know and we will include it with this post.

Obama DC School Mural:






Obama Banner in Florida Polling Place:






Murals of foreign dictators