A Right of Way for Campaign Signs?

A Right of Way for Campaign Signs?
New battles are brewing over campaign signs in municipalities from North Carolina to Arizona.

The roadside campaign sign won’t be disappearing anytime soon.

After a movement by many municipalities across the country to restrict or ban their placement in recent years, campaign signs appear to be making a comeback—even in places where local officials have worked hard to restrict their use.

New laws in states like Arizona and North Carolina have effectively overruled some of the most restrictive local laws on sign placement. And it’s ignited a new battle over where and when candidates and campaigns should be permitted to display them.    

“Elections are important and the ability for candidates to get their name out to the public is important,” says North Carolina State Sen. Warren Daniel (R), who spearheaded passage of a recently-enacted state law that permits campaign signs along state roadways, including in some localities where they were previously banned.

The new law, which took effect at the beginning of October, permits the placement of signs in the public right-of-way. Campaigns are now allowed to start placing the signs 30 days before the official start of the state’s early voting window. The signs can legally remain until a week after Election Day.

“The main thing is an inconsistent application of standards across the state,” argues Daniel, who notes that a web of local laws regulating the placement of campaign signs haven’t been enforced consistently. “We wanted a uniform standard instead of different parts of the state deciding.”

For Daniel and other advocates of campaign signs, it’s a First Amendment issue. But for Cary, North Carolina Mayor Harold Weinbrecht, the concern is public safety and the community’s aesthetic features.

“Cary is among the most desirable places to live in the U.S. We don’t allow real estate signs or open house signs,” Weinbrecht says. “It’s contrary to what our town embraces as a value.”

Weinbrecht won reelection earlier this month without the use of signage alongside public roads, which he made a point of during the campaign. Weinbrecht asked local candidates for a pledge to not take advantage of the new state law on placement of political signs.   

It’s the same story in several municipalities across the state of Arizona where a recently-enacted state law has overruled local bans on political signs along public roads and in the right-of-way. Localities are now barred from removing campaign signs that are placed within 60 days of a primary election, but the signs must container a disclaimer that lists a name and contact number for the campaign that placed them.

The new law is riling officials in localities like Scottsdale and Mesa, which previously restricted sign placement.

“Under previous law, the signs had to be on the private side of the property line,” says Gordon Sheffield, a zoning administrator for the city of Mesa. Sheffield says the city is concerned about the size of signs blocking the visibility of motorists or blocking pedestrian access.

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