Campaign Signage Exposed
I’m on vacation now, so it has been a little difficult to motivate myself to blog. I consider this time an escape from the campaigning I did for the past few months, so I don’t want to spend time reflecting on the discouraging thoughts that have floated through my mind since September 14. However, I want to make sure I capture some important lessons that I learned before they fade from memory too!
Campaign signage along our roads is the first clue that an election is coming. The first signs popped up in early May: Michael Jackson, Charles Lollar, Rushern Baker, Melvin High, Rafael Hylton, and Mel Franklin all made sure to place their signs in prominent locations near my neighborhood.
In the past, I had never thought much about campaign signage, other than the fact it was annoying that so many signs littered our roadways for so long. I did not realize that there were actually laws that govern when campaign signage can be placed, how it should be placed, and when it should be picked up. I’m sure that most voters are equally unaware of the rules, but our candidates certainly are not.
People for Change posted an excellent video on YouTube during this election season, which pointed out candidates’ blatant disregard for the rules about campaign signage, but I doubt the vast majority of voters were exposed to it. The law states that signs cannot be placed in the public right-of-way more than 45 days in advance of election day. That means signs should not be placed along roadways and intersections before that time. Do some quick math, and posting signs in early May breaks that law by nearly 90 days.
So why do candidates persist in breaking this law? The answer is easy: there is no fine attached to it, and unless a resident lodges a complaint, state and local governments do not enforce the law. It costs money and staff time, which is scarce these days, to remove the signs from the roads. Most signs would be quickly replaced anyhow.
I attended a forum in June in Fort Washington, and another in Baden in late June, where candidate and future District 9 Councilman Mel Franklin was asked by voters about his blatant disregard for the law. He skirted the issue by claiming that his sign in front of B&J Carryout was placed on private property and another on 210 and Farmington Road was not in the public right-of-way. He conveniently avoided mention of his signs on Woodyard Road, Route 5, and Route 301. He was also wrong about the one on 210, as it was definitely placed in the public right-of-way and eventually removed.
Franklin, along with Ron Fisher, Juanita Miller, and Sydney Harrison, were all informed of the law at the Baden forum by an attendee who read the rules to them, but clearly decided they did not have to obey it. It may seem like a small thing to ask candidates to abide by a law that is not actively enforced and for which no penalty exists, but I believe it demonstrates whether or not they have the integrity to follow the law after they are elected.
In these tough economic times, what is even more infuriating to voters is that the candidates also ignore the law following the election. Candidates are required to pick up their signs within 15 days after election day. Did you see signs still littering our roadways, posted to fences, placed on the lawns of foreclosed properties, and posted in vacant lots? Well, guess who picked them up? If you guessed that it was your tax dollars paying for government employees to do that, you are probably right. Most of the signs began to disappear at the end of September, and that was not because the candidates all decided to go pick them up at the same time. It was because the state and local government had to send employees to collect and dispose of them.
The bottom line here is that we need more accountability from candidates and our elected leaders. We need to push state lawmakers to impose a fine (which they are unlikely to do because they would be punishing themselves) or spread the word to voters about their egregious behavior, and let the public outcry fix the problem.