Signs publicizing the names of local office-seekers are beginning to pop-up on just about every street corner as the October primary and November general municipal elections grow near. However, candidates and campaign volunteers should be aware of the laws governing sign placement in North Carolina.
One contributing factor in the sheer number of signs present is the fact that North Carolina allows political campaign signs to be placed in a public right-of-way. In many other states the placement of signs is limited to private property, with states placing a moratorium on signs being placed in the yard between the sidewalk and the street.
In 2011 the General Assembly approved the legislation that allows political signs to be placed in right-of-ways with the permission of any resident who owns property that fronts the public right-of-way. However, the law also provides some stipulations regarding the placement of signs. One such stipulation is the allowable time-frame in which signs may be on display.
The North Carolina statute passed in 2011 allows political signs to be placed in a public right-of-way only for 30 days preceding an election and 10 days following the election. Additionally, signs are not permitted on any fully-controlled access highways such as the county’s two interstates or US-52 in much of Surry County.
Additionally, according to the statute, there are other restrictions on sign placement in right-of-ways. Political signs that are placed in right-of-ways may not be closer than three feet to the road, taller than 42 inches, obscure the view of a motorist or obscure the view of or replace another sign.
The statute also explains the penalty for unlawfully removing a political sign, stating that it is a third degree misdemeanor to “steal, deface, vandalize or unlawfully remove a political sign that has been lawfully placed.”
The appropriate contact for residents wishing to report the illegal placement of political signs, according to guidance the State Board of Elections, is a local office of the Department of Public Transportation.
While North Carolina law specifically allows campaign signs to be placed in public right-of-ways, the law does not have a prohibition against or specifically permit signs on public properties.
Mount Airy Police Chief Dale Watson said, “tis the season” when questioned about the legalities behind the placement of political signs. Watson said in the past some issues have arisen regarding the placement of campaign signs.
Watson said public property isn’t the place for any campaign sign. “City property shouldn’t be used to convey any one political message,” commented Watson. Watson also said candidates and campaign workers should pay close attention to how signs are placed on properties where they are permitted.
“We ask that those placing signs place them in a manner that won’t obstruct the view of motorists, and that people have the permission of property owners prior to placing signs,” said Watson.
While sign placement maybe somewhat of an issue, Watson said his larger concern is the removal of campaign signs.
“The bigger issue is getting signs removed once the election is over,” commented Watson. According to Watson signs have remained on display long after election day in past years. “We ask that candidates promptly remove their signs after the election.”
Watson said that in past years his officers have had to remove campaign signs, and the chief hopes to avoid this happening after this year’s election.
Andy Winemiller is a staff writer at the Mount Airy News. Andy can be reached at (336) 415-4698 or firstname.lastname@example.org.