Thursday, October 28, 2021
Oct. 28, 2021

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Clark Asks: Rules on campaign signs vary in county

Each city, unincorporated area have own practices; no penalties detailed

By , Columbian political reporter
Published:
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Eric Holt, who campaigned for Clark County Council chair, collects his signs after the election along Southeast Columbia Way in Vancouver on Thursday afternoon.
Eric Holt, who campaigned for Clark County Council chair, collects his signs after the election along Southeast Columbia Way in Vancouver on Thursday afternoon. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The day after the election, Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick was up at 6 a.m. collecting the roughly 100 campaign signs he placed all over the county for his successful re-election bid.

“The people of Clark County don’t like them lying around,” he said. “It doesn’t make our community look good, so I like to get them out as soon as possible.”

Van Nortwick, who was first elected in 2010, said he stores his signs underneath his deck until the next election, although some end up looking a little rough.

Many residents are eager for candidates to remove this visible remnant of the long and sometimes fraught election season. The presence of the signs prompted one resident to submit a question to Clark Asks about how long candidates have to remove them and what kind of penalties exist if they don’t.

The answers are contained in a 23-page document on the county’s website. The document details the different regulations for the county’s five small cities, unincorporated Clark County, the city of Vancouver and the Washington State Department of Transportation. Clark County Elections Supervisor Cathie Garber said in an email that the document is given to candidates who file for public office.

State and federal court rulings limit the power of local governments to regulate the placement of political signs. Regulations vary among Clark County jurisdictions, but most generally frown upon signs being placed where they might create a traffic hazard or an eyesore.

The regulations also vary on how long campaigns have to remove their signs after the election. Although Battle Ground’s code states that signs will be taken down within 15 days of the election, the city merely asks candidates to sign a voluntary pledge that they will take them down within that time period. The city of Vancouver also asks candidates to sign a pledge to take down their signs from the street rights of way within 15 days following the election.

None of the regulations in the document describe penalties for signs being left up too long. Washougal Community Development Director Mitch Kneipp said that while the city’s regulations state that political signs should be taken down by 10 days after the election, there’s no penalty if they aren’t. But several jurisdictions, including Washougal and Camas, allow for officials to remove or dispose of signs left up for too long or posted in the wrong place.

Individuals wanting to place signs in unincorporated Clark County or Washougal have to register with the jurisdiction and designate a person responsible for removing them. The county further requires that signs be removed within 15 days.

Battle Ground’s regulations ban political and other temporary signs from being placed in the public right of way. If they are placed there, the regulations state they will be removed and discarded. The regulations state that signs can only be placed on private property with the owner’s permission.

In La Center, political signs can be placed in the public right of way with a permit, which is good for 90 days. Afterward, the city can remove and dispose of the signs.

Ridgefield regulations state that signs must be removed if they need repair, create a “public nuisance” or within 60 days of being placed. Camas, which has the most stringent regulations, requires political signs to come down 10 days after the election.

Vancouver’s regulations given to candidates are prefaced with a letter from City Manager Eric Holmes asking candidates to limit their use of the public right of way and to keep them out of historical or scenic areas.

“I believe that there is widespread community support to go beyond these minimum legal requirements to keep Vancouver’s street rights-of-ways and public areas free of the clutter of unlimited political signs,” he wrote in the letter. “You are also no doubt aware of court decisions which limit the ability of the city to prohibit this unsightly clutter along our city streets.”

According to a letter from WSDOT given to Clark County candidates, political signs can be placed on a property owner’s land next to a highway but have to be taken down within 10 days after the election. These signs are subject to the Highway Advertising Control Act. The law includes a section that states that if a sign violates the law and is found to be a public nuisance, its owner can face misdemeanor charges.

Clark County Republican Party Chair David Gellatly said that parties are responsible for any signs they put up. He said that volunteers are currently out collecting the party’s “Be Bold” signs.

He said that party also helped distribute signs from campaigns opposing initiatives 1631 and 1639. He said that some signs will be recycled or will go to the landfill. Others will be taken to the shooting range for target practice.

After getting off work Thursday, Eric Holt, Democratic candidate for Clark County Council chair, drove his family’s Dodge minivan through Vancouver picking up some of the hundreds of signs he’s posted. He said he questions how effective signs will be as campaigns become increasingly digital.

“People don’t like to be called; they don’t like to have their doors knocked on,” he said. “Digital is the future.”

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