In Our View: Signs of the times

Campaign signs create nonpartisan rancor, but there are rules

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It's the silly season, when political candidates at all levels are busy promising that, if elected, they will simultaneously increase services and decrease taxes by eliminating government waste. To get their hopeful yet seemingly unachievable message to the voters, they and their minions are busy posting campaign signs. Everywhere.

And this, in turn, causes formerly apathetic voters to mobilize, get out and take action. Yes, they write to The Columbian and they complain about these red, white and blue eyesores.

"These signs are an annoyance, a nuisance and they are dangerous distractions to motorists," writes Tim Coe, who attached photos of signs for various candidates decorating roadway medians and rights-of-way.

"Does Clark County have regulations restricting political signs being placed on county property?" asks an exasperated Nick Ruark.

Umm, yes. In fact, there are 24 pages of regulations, all neatly assembled by the elections division of the Clark County Auditor's Office, and posted for all to see on the Web at http://clarkvotes.org. Nonetheless, courts have held that candidates have First Amendment rights to put signs along rights of way as long as they don't create safety hazards or disrupt irrigation of the landscaping.

So let's take a moment to honor this free speech. One of the greatest things about our country is the right to engage in political speech, just about anytime and anywhere, even if some of us find it to be annoying. Candidates need to do their best to get the word out about themselves, and their positions, and they rightfully strive to differentiate themselves from their opponents. Signs are a traditional and apparently effective way to do this, even if the messages are limited to a name and a slogan that wouldn't crowd Twitter's 140-character maximum.

So what are the rules? Vancouver prohibits posting of signs on trees, structures or installations upon a public street, on any city-owned property without consent of the city, or on lawns or parking strips without the owner's consent. They ask candidates to sign a pledge not to put signs along Officers Row, in parks or where people are trying to get into or out of vehicles. They also humbly ask that campaign signs not be made to resemble street signs, and that they be removed within 15 days of the election.

Clark County also prohibits signs in places that create a traffic hazard, and asks that candidates voluntarily keep them out of the rights-of-way.

The state Department of Transportation prohibits signs in the right-of-way or attaching signs to overpasses, though folks are welcome to wave them. Signs outside the right-of-way are OK, but limited to 32 square feet.

Smaller cities have similar rules, which are on the elections website.

If you think a sign is posted improperly, review the guidelines and call the appropriate jurisdiction's code enforcement office or city hall.

Of course, some of those who don't like the signs take direct action. They'll vandalize signs, often leaving the litter along the road and creating a bigger eyesore and potential hazard than the original campaign signs. That's both a shame and a crime. Even if the sign was removed, there's no guarantee it won't be quickly replaced by another sign — or two.

The best solution, of course, is to read up on each candidate. Study the issues and ask questions. Don't let your vote be determined by a sign.