Every April, political lawn signs pop up like daffodils in my small town. These straightforward, usually bi-colored, endorsements appear along the roads over the course of three weeks. The campaigns have a remarkable skill of getting them all collected by high noon the day after the local election. It's quite a feat to get hundreds of signs back into the possession of their candidate, but thankfully, for some campaigns, this post-election task is made easier leading up to the election...
Thanks to thieves.
Few know that there are rules which govern sign placement. The basic requirements are that these temporary signs can only be displayed for thirty days and they must not be placed on public land.
Every year, campaigns start too early and/or encroach on public space. By and large, no one says anything about it, dismissing the posting offense as both "minor" and "irrelevant." I disagree with both characterizations: breaking the rules is neither "minor" nor irrelevant." And while some may rush to the defense of a candidate who got out there too early and was never told about the restriction from public land, I am of the opinion that if running for office, the onus is on you to ask and learn the rules upfront.
Who wants to vote into office someone who couldn't be bothered to do his/her homework during the relatively short campaign season?
Now getting back to these thieves.
Properly posted signs are given to supporters who are private land owners who give their permission for the temporary posting. The political endorsing signs can be put anywhere on the landowner's property, but for maximum effect, they usually go close to the road, where, incidentally, they are easy to steal. Over the weekend, many of these were, in fact, stolen.
I'm not going to assert that the candidates themselves were out in the small hours of the morning breaking the law but I will say that if these candidates had already disregarded the rules about posting, then it's not such a huge leap of logic to think that the law against theft also may have seemed, in their minds, not to apply to them.
Some of those who have woken up to find their signs gone have told the local police and the local paper. Whether anything comes of these reports is unknown as the police and the newspaper might also consider the theft as "minor" and "irrelevant." However, the police, who are specifically charged with both knowing and enforcing the law, ought to take the matter seriously. Moreover, the police should know what spaces in town are public and ought to -- when they are on patrol -- collect the improperly posted signs off of public land.
Regardless of the enforcement of the rules, people simply shouldn't be taking what is not theirs.
For those of us who know who lives where, we have he ability to conclude that Homeowner A supports Candidate B for Elected Office X. Does this have a direct bearing on whether sign-reader will also endorse the same candidate simply upon learning of the homeowner's endorsement of said candidate? Who knows. And frankly it doesn't really matter because lawn signs do not vote, people do.
And that fact is neither minor nor irrelevant. That's the piece that counts.
So to all of you who have taken the low road and stolen signs in the idea that you are helping your candidate, you need to know that this tactic is wrong and ineffective. Instead of being helpful in your thievery, you have left those of us who properly engage in the political process to conclude that you're either so concerned that your candidate will lose that you've got to resort to breaking the law to get your way or that you're an obstructionist to democracy.
I tend to conclude the latter, which does quite a lot to motivate me to make sure to vote, and not surprisingly not for the candidate you stole for.
Very soon, this election cycle will be over. The hope is that whoever wins will take his/her role as a public servant seriously and do what is best for our small town. However, for those of us who watch the ugly campaign season of endorsements and larceny, we are left to wonder if what you may do in office is equally ugly.