It’s an age old question: which came first, the campaign sign or the campaign supporter? Okay, maybe not, but inquiring minds (not to mention political candidates, campaign strategists, and voters) want to know: do political yard signs really work? That is, do they convert casual sign observers into bona fide voters? In the paragraphs that follow, we explain what exactly political signs do and don’t do. On the whole, we make the case that whether you’re running for school board or Senate, campaign signs will be a valuable part of your overall election strategy.
When Political Signs Work
Increasing Name Recognition
Have you ever wondered why elected officials spend so much time appearing on late-night talk shows, riding in parades, updating their social media accounts, and doing other things that have little or nothing to do with making laws? They do it because in politics, name recognition is the name of the game. Prominent political scientist David Mayhew once said that, for politicians, “To be perceived at all is to be perceived favorably.” Thus, one of any candidate’s principle tasks is to make prospective voters familiar with his or her name.
The question remains, however: do yard signs truly generate name recognition? A recent study by Vanderbilt University’s Cindy Kam and Elizabeth Zechmeister suggests that they do. In the study, the scholars placed four large signs for the imaginary school board candidate “Ben Griffin” on a street where roughly half of the parents passed each day as they drove their children to and from school. Three days after the signs were put up, the local PTA surveyed parents about their preferences in the upcoming school board election. The survey results indicated that parents who drove along the street where signs were placed were ten percent more likely to say that Ben Griffin was one of their top three choices for the position. The huge difference in favorability for Ben Griffin between those who saw the signs and those who didn’t suggests that campaign signage is a viable way for candidates to build name recognition.
Getting Out The Vote
Another way that political signs can improve a candidate’s electoral prospects is by reminding supporters to vote. Although signs are unlikely to change a voter’s mind about a particular candidate, they may help remind people who already like the politician to vote on Election Day if used strategically.
Political scientist Costa Panagopoulos recently tested whether campaign signs would actually increase voter turnout by studying the 2005 municipal elections in New York City. After identifying 14 election districts whose historical voter turnout was nearly identical, Panagopoulos strategically stationed sign-toting volunteers at busy intersections in 7 randomly selected districts. The large white signs stated “Vote Tomorrow” in blue letters. In the actual election, the voter turnout in the 7 districts where volunteers held signs (the “treatment” group) was 3.6 percent higher than the turnout in the districts where signs were not displayed (the “control” group). this difference may seem trivial, a three percent increase in vote percentage can have a huge impact on a close election. Moreover, this increase in turnout seems to be comparable to the results of other “get out the vote” techniques such as door-to-door contacting, phone calls, and direct mail, which often require significantly more resources (time, money, and manpower) than does signage.
As the research summarized above illustrates, campaign signage can have a meaningful effect on voter turnout. Candidates who use signs strategically may be able to target the people who are inclined to vote for them, perhaps by placing signs in areas where supporters are highly concentrated.
Yard Signs and Social Cues
Classic studies in political science (see, for example,Voting by Berelson, Lazarsfeld and McPhee, 1954) have found that a person’s family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers can have a strong impact on who they vote for. Political signage may help reinforce these powerful social forces by serving as voting cues. In other words, signs can spreads political information between two people even if a political discussion never takes place.
For example, imagine that two neighbors, Tim and Wilson, are good friends who talk about most everything—except politics. When Wilson places a political sign in his yard for Jill Taylor, a local school board candidate, Tim notices the sign on his way to and from work but doesn’t think much about it. When the election arrives, Tim goes to the polls to vote for a friend running for city council. After voting for his friend, Tim comes to the portion of the ballot that asks about the school board vote. Although he is not familiar with any of the candidates, Tim remembers that his friend Wilson supports Jill Taylor. While his personal knowledge is limited, Tim knows that he trusts Wilson, so he votes for Jill. Just as in this scenario, voters use “information shortcuts” to make ballot decisions all the time. While campaign signs may not inspire instant confidence in a candidate per se, they can help uninformed voters connect a candidate’s name to friends or family members that they trust. In this way, candidate’s can use signage to tap personal networks that are powerful sources of vote motivation.
Campaign Signs as Political Participation
Campaign signs can also provide supporters with a way to express themselves politically, allowing them to voice their opinions and feel connected to a candidate. Political scientists Todd Makse and Anand Sokhey argue that “Yard signs constitute an important, symbolic aspect of what we might call an ordinary individual’s “total campaign experience.” In other words, posting signs can be a form of political participation in and of itself.
Signs can also provide campaign volunteers with a way to openly show their friends and neighbors the candidate that they support. In a way, signs can function as a symbol of the volunteer’s hours of hard work for the campaign. Moreover, sign drives give campaign faithful the opportunity to have tangible evidence of their dedication to the cause; whenever they see a sign-lined street, they will feel they have accomplished something important. Candidates who want their supporters to feel that they are truly involved in the campaign and are able to fully express their political voices should incorporate political signs into their overall election strategy. As Maske and Sokhey observe, “Campaign professionals may debate the power of yard signs as a mobilization tool, but . . . these signs are anything but trivial to the individuals who display them.”
Local Elections: The Power of Visibility
Ironically, campaign signs tend to be used most when they are least effective—presidential elections. Since presidential races are extremely visible to the public eye, nearly everyone who is going to vote has relatively defined opinions about the candidates involved. Because of this, campaign signs are unlikely to have a major impact. As behavioral psychologist Mark Sibicky notes in a recent interview, “Signs do little to change anyone’s mind that is already made up.” At the same time, signs can have an important effect on elections in which candidates are relatively unknown. Candidates for municipal offices such as school board, sheriff, city council, mayor, and judgeships are often relatively unknown, so the added name recognition generated by political signage is invaluable.
Additionally, because municipal offices in many localities omit partisan labels from the ballot, voters who are unable to make a decision based solely on the political party may turn to the candidates whose names they are most familiar with. Politicians running for lesser-known state offices such as state auditor, treasurer, and even attorney general can also benefit from the increased notoriety that signs provide.
When Political Signs Don’t Work
Like any other campaigning technique, political signage has its limits. According to some political strategists, “signs don’t vote” because people who are willing to post signs (each of which costs the campaign precious resources) don’t always make it to the voting booth. Since people who are already favorably disposed toward a candidate tend to be the ones who are willing to post signs, it is difficult to tell whether signs actually create new supporters.
Admittedly, campaign signs are unlikely to be the main factor determining how a person will vote. In other words, deep-pocketed candidates who pepper their districts with signs will not necessarily win an election unless their campaign message aligns with constituent priorities. Things like political party, ideology, education, family influence, and personal contact with candidates are much more likely to affect vote choice. Indeed, some studies show that signs may simply be an indicator of existing support rather than a tool for converting voters from one candidate to another.Another possibility is that voters are simply more expressive than other people. One study suggests that whether a person displays a sign for the local University football team predicts voting just as well as whether they display a political sign.
Are campaign signs a sure-fire way to convert a disinterested or opposing citizen into a legitimate supporter? Probably not. Even though signs may not be the most important factor influencing individual voting decisions, they can still have powerful effect on a candidate’s political fate. In close races (especially those that are not salient to the voting public), signs can have a profound impact on election outcomes.
Bang for your Buck
We now address perhaps the most important signage question for candidates and campaign managers: are yard signs worth the cost? To truly understand whether political signs are cost-effective, campaigns need to evaluate the costs of signage relative to other common campaigning techniques. Some of the most common ways to persuade citizens to show up at the polls include phone calls, direct mail, door-to-door canvassing, and, of course, signage. In the article that we reference above, political scientist Costa Panagopoulos estimates that when volunteers display three street signs in an election precinct with about 825 registered voters, the voter turnout will increase by approximately 3.5 percent, or 29 votes. If each sign costs $10, the cost per vote for 3 large signs would be about $1. If sign-holders are paid an hourly wage of $15, the cost would increase dramatically to about $17 per vote—still less than the cheapest alternative.
The table below contains the estimated costs for each potential method of campaign contact, as reported by Panagopoulos (he obtains the door-to-door and direct mail cost estimates from Alan Gerber and Donald Green; phone bank cost estimates come from Emily Cardy). While these estimates are imperfect and refer only to signs held on streets (not yard signs), they suggest that dollar for dollar, political signage can be one of the most effective ways to increase vote share. Although no academic studies to date have calculated the votes generated by campaign yard signs, obtaining one vote would have to require 5 or more yard signs (priced at 5 dollars each) to be more expensive than door-to-door contacting, the lowest cost alternative. For signs to be more expensive than the commonly-used phone bank technique, one vote would have to require more than 20 yard signs!
Cost Efficiency: How Political Signs Compare*
*Source: Panagopoulos, Costa. 2009. Street ﬁght: The impact of a street sign campaign on voter turnout. Electoral Studies 28, 309-313
Footing the Bill
Recently, some campaigns have begun to ask supporters to make a small donation to the campaign before they will hand over a yard sign. For example, the Obama organization made waves by distributing signs—traditionally given out for free—in exchange for a campaign donation of about 8 dollars. While this practice may turn off casual supporters and anger party faithful accustomed to complimentary signs, it can be a way to defray the costs of signage. Using this approach, the campaign can also compile contact information for those who purchase signs, allowing them to reach out again in get-out-the-vote and fundraising initiatives later in the election cycle.
Campaign Sign Strategy: FAQ’s
Now that we’ve convinced you that yard signs are a valuable, cost-effective component of political campaigns (if you’re still reading, we assume we have), let’s talk sign strategy. Through our responses to some of the most common signage questions, we’ll tell you what you need to know as you plan an effective ground game.
How many campaign signs do I need?
While there isn’t a hard and fast rule for campaign sign quantity, remember that the goal is to maximize name recognition and visibility. The number of signs needed to accomplish name recognition will vary significantly depending on the size of the voting area. To maximize the power of your signs, a good rule of thumb is to place signs on private property in areas likely to be seen by actual voters (rather than people who aren’t your constituents). As we discussed earlier, signs are more likely to remind supporters to vote than to win people over, so you should concentrate signs in areas where you have a legitimate chance of winning.
What should my campaign signs say?
At a minimum, the sign should contain your first and last name and the office that you are running for. Many state campaign finance laws require political yard signs to include a disclaimer that identifies the person or group that provides funding for the sign. For specific state requirements, consult the state sign regulations section below.
How should I design my campaign sign?
In order to build name recognition, the sign needs to make your name stand out. The best way to do this is to keep the sign design simple. Make good use of blank space and minimize the amount of extraneous information on the sign. Make sure that your sign color scheme allows text to be easily read by a casual observer. If you need help or have questions, take advantage of our free professional design services.
How should I distribute my political yard signs?
Although there are many different strategies for getting yard signs in place, here are a few ideas to maximize efficiency and coverage:
1. Focus on voters
A common phrase among campaign strategists is “signs don’t vote; people do.” The gist of this phrase is that signs themselves don’t guarantee success—they are most effective when they reflect actual support. For this reason, we recommend placing as many signs as possible on private property, which requires the permission of the homeowner. When a person puts a sign in his/her yard or window, they become more invested in the campaign themselves. As discussed previously, signs also have more advertising value when those who see them can associate the candidate’s name with friends and neighbors who they respect. Focusing on the voter behind the sign will help you use your campaign funds most efficiently.
2. Sign blitz
If your campaign is strapped for cash, one effective way to cause a stir with a limited number of signs is to organize a sign blitz. Essentially, this involves putting out a large number of signs within a short period of time. If you are low on resources, make sure that your supporters focus their efforts on heavily trafficked streets.
3. Election Day Reminders
Another cost-efficient campaign sign tactic is to get campaign workers or volunteers to stand on busy street corners reminding people to vote on the day of the election. As we mentioned earlier in this post, an academic study in New York City found that when volunteers held up three large “vote today” signs, voter turnout increased by 3.5 percent. This technique will be most beneficial when signs are positioned in areas with high concentrations of likely supporters.
4. Mobilize supporters
The act of putting out signs not only increases your visibility as a candidate, it also gives volunteers a chance to feel connected to the campaign. In the improbable event that signs don’t win over any new supporters they will, at the very least, help reinforce existing support. Perhaps most importantly, you save crucial campaign staff time and wages when you recruit volunteers to pound the pavement for you.
5. Develop a strategy.
No matter what course you choose, you should develop a well thought-out sign distribution strategy. Consider planning the number of signs that you want to place in specific areas of your district. For example, a candidate for mayor might estimate the number of signs that he/she wants to place in each municipal voting precinct. Creating and executing a detailed sign distribution plan will help ensure that signs are seen by the prospective voters that you want to target.
How can I keep my yard sign costs down?
The answer to this question is similar to other responses we have given previously, but we will review them here as a final recap. To use your yard signs most efficiently, try to place them on along busy roads, preferably in front of private homes (rather than vacant lots or public property). Ask volunteers to distribute signs for you in order to save campaign worker wage resources for more skill-intensive projects. Try to get a lot of signs out quickly (sign blitz) in order to pique voter attention. Maximize the effect of each sign by designing a clear, visually appealing sign that will stand out to people as they pass by. Finally, make sure that signs contain the appropriate legal disclaimers for your state (i.e. “Paid for by…”) and placed in legally authorized areas in order to avoid the cost and embarrassment of having signs confiscated (see below for an in-depth summary of campaign signs laws).
Before we launch into a state-by-state rundown of laws related to political yard signs, let’s talk about some common legal questions and definitions related to signage. First, however, a disclaimer: we are not attorneys and this post is not expert legal advice. While we hope that the information here will be a useful resource, candidates are ultimately responsible for making themselves aware of the laws relating to campaign signs. With that out of the way, let’s get back to our discussion of signage laws.
What general guidelines should I follow to keep my signs legal?
Most states have laws prohibiting temporary signs (campaign or otherwise) that use blinking lights, appear to provide travel directions, are in poor repair, or imitate traffic signs. Laws that ban signs from being placed in the public right-of-way or within a certain distance of a polling location on election day are also extremely common. Additionally, many states have campaign finance laws that require signs (and other forms of political advertising) to contain a “disclaimer” or attribution line. At a minimum, this line usually identifies the name of the person or group that paid for the sign to be produced. More about state-specific campaign laws below.
Don’t make the costly mistake of allowing illegal signs to distract from your campaign message. By making sure that your signs comply with local laws, you will also save yourself the hassle of retrieving confiscating signs, paying fines for non-compliance, and fighting accusations from your opponents.
What if someone steals my campaign signs?
While political signs are expensive and sign theft can be an emotional issue, candidates should not allow yard sign drama to distract from their campaign. Take the example of gun-toting Dale Peterson, a candidate for Alabama Agricultural Commissioner who ran an ad accusing his opponent of recruiting “thugs and criminals” to steal his yard signs. The ad went viral, but Peterson lost the election—coming in a distant third place. Although Peterson probably had other issues (he was subsequently convicted of stealing beer, paper towels, and cashews from a local Sam’s Club), the sideshow created by his accusations did not help his chances. It should go without saying that candidates should definitely not steal their opponents’ yard signs. Incredibly, however, enough candidates have been caught stealing signs that it warrants a mention: don’t steal signs. Not only is it unethical, it can result in hefty fines and, frankly, it’s just bad PR.
Can my homeowner’s association stop me from putting up political signs?
It depends on the state. Some states have passed laws that expressly prohibit community associations (aka HOA’s) from making any rules about campaign signage. Other states have laws that prevent HOA’s from banning signs altogether, but allow size, quantity, and timing restrictions. If there are no laws that specifically say that HOA’s can’t regulate signage, they likely can do so legally.
“Wait,” you say, “doesn’t the Constitution protect my right to freedom of speech?” While the First Amendment does guarantee freedom of expression, it applies primarily in public settings, not private. In other words, while a city or county probably can’t tell you to put your signs down, an HOA can because it is a private organization that you choose to join when you move into the community. Check our state-by-state breakdown of political signage laws to see if your state has laws that prevent HOA’s from making sign rules.
Where can campaign signs be placed?
As far as we can tell, all 50 states allow political signs to be placed on private property if the property owner gives his/her permission. There are, however, several exception to this rule. First, as we described above, HOA’s may be able to regulate or prohibit sign display, depending on the state. Second, private property next to state highways or interstate may not be able to display signs because of traffic safety concerns. When in doubt, homeowners should check with their state department of transportation. As a general rule, signs typically may not be displayed in the rights-of-way of state and federal roads or highways, including road medians, shoulders, and utility poles. As with sign placement laws, the size and location of the public right-of-way varies by state. Additionally, many states have laws that prohibit political signs from the area immediately surrounding polling locations on Election Day. For a state-specific discussion of these laws, click on your state in the map below.
Are there time limits for keeping political signs up?
Once again, time restrictions for the display of political signs vary significantly by state. Among states that have adopted such rules, it is fairly common to see a restriction on signs more than 45 days before an election and 7-10 days after the election. City ordinances that place a time restriction on campaign signs will probably be upheld in court, as long as the time period is reasonable.
Right-of-way: Generally speaking, a right-of-way is the right to pass through the property of another. Typically, a governmental entity (state, city, etc.) will hold an easement on property adjacent to a highway or road which allows them to expand existing roads. In the case of political yard signs, laws that prohibit signage from being placed in the “public right-of-way” are referring to the area immediately surrounding a road or highway. Campaign signs are usually banned within the right-of-way to preserve driver sight-lines and protect public safety.
Electioneering: Essentially, electioneering refers to any attempt to influence or persuade a person to vote for a certain candidate or ballot proposition. The display of political signage is typically considered electioneering. Most states have laws that prevent electioneering within a certain distance of a polling location on the day of an election.
Disclaimer: In campaign finance lingo, this refers to a statement at the bottom of a political sign (or other advertisement) that states something to the effect of “Paid for by the Committee to elect John Smith.” Not all states require disclaimers on yard signs and among those that do, there is a fair amount of variation in the information that must be printed on the sign. Be sure to check for disclaimer requirements in your state by clicking on the map below.
Federal Political Signage Laws
The provisions of 23 CFR 750.704 (known as the Federal Highway Beautification Act) make it illegal to place political signs within 660 feet of the edge of the right-of-way of an Interstate of Federal-Aid Primary system highway. (Signs are allowed within 660 feet of the right-of-way if the area is zoned or officially designated as a commercial or industrial area.) In rural areas, signs should not be visible from the Interstate or Primary Highway if they are erected for that purpose—even if they are more than the required 660 feet away from the edge of the right-of-way. State governments typically enforce this law fairly stringently, since it is a condition for receiving millions of dollars in highway aid.
Another federal law, 11 CFR 110.11 (also, 2 U.S.C 441d), states that candidates who are running for federal office (U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, President) must print a disclaimer on all campaign signage, including yard signs. Assuming the signs are funded by the candidate’s official committee, the disclaimer must state “Paid for by (name of candidate committee).” If the sign is paid for by another person or group, but is authorized by the candidate, the disclaimer must identify the entity that pays for the sign and state that it is authorized by the candidate/committee. Finally, if the candidate does not authorize or pay for the sign, the disclaimer must contain the name, permanent street address, and phone number or “world wide web address” (government’s words, not ours) of the responsible party and state that the sign was not authorized by the candidate or his/her committee. In all cases, the disclaimer must be surrounded by a box and be printed clearly and conspicuously (check the statute for details) in at least 12 point font for signs 2 by 3 feet or smaller.
Campaign Yard Sign Laws: State-by-State
In the remaining portion of this post, we describe many of the laws relating to political signs in all 50 states. Click on your state in the map below to learn more about the sign laws in your state. When you get to your state, click on one of the sign templates to create a custom campaign sign. Be sure to add any disclaimers that are required in your area. If you don’t see something you like, create your own political sign using our design tool or browse through our collection of campaign sign templates. As you are designing, make sure to take advantage of our free professional design services.
Note: Candidates for federal offices (U.S. Senate, U.S House of Representatives, and President) are subject principally to the guidelines established by the Federal Elections Commission. As we’re not lawyers we also encourage all campaigns to verify applicable laws with the appropriate authorities.
According to ALA CODE § 23-1-6, signs not authorized by the state Department of Transportation may not be posted along the rights-of-way of state highways in Alabama. This means that campaigns should avoid placing signs along state roads. Signs that violate this law may be removed. Alabama law (Section 17-5-12) also states that campaign signs must include a disclaimer that identifies the person or group that sponsored the signage. For example, the disclaimer might state “Paid for By John Smith for Congress.”
Political yard signs (and many other forms of campaign communication) in Alaska are required to identify the person or group responsible for the sign using AS § 15.13.090. This identification must state “Paid for by” and then include the name and address of the responsible party. 2 AAC 50.306 clarifies that the disclaimer must be “visible, separate from the text of the communication, and large enough to be read by a viewer.”
When it comes to sign placement, Alaska Law (AS § 15.56.016) states that any person who posts political signs or posters within 200 feet of the entrance to the polling place during the time that the polls are open is guilty of campaign misconduct in the third degree. A separate offense occurs every day that a person keeps the signs in the prohibited area while the polls are open.
The Alaska Department of Transportation also prohibits political signage along or within 660 feet of state rights-of-way. If the sign is on private property, the DOT must provide 30 days written notice that the sign will be remove. If the sign is on public property, however, it will be removed without notice to the owner. Impounded signs will be held for 30 days, after which they will be discarded. See the Department of Transportation’s political signage guidelines for more details, including lists of the state highways and roads affected by the law, organized by region. The state also has a useful resource that explains state right-of-way laws.
Campaign signs in Arizona that are funded by the candidate or his/her committee must have a disclaimer that states “Paid for by (name of the committee).” If the signs are produced for an independent committee, the disclaimer must also include the names and telephone numbers of the top 3 donors to the committee as well as a statement acknowledging that the signs are not authorized by any candidate (see ARS 16-912 to read the law that contains these requirements).
Another political sign regulation, ARS 16-1019 holds that cities, counties, and other municipalities in Arizona may not remove political signs, provided that they are erected within the period spanning 60 days before the primary election and 15 days after the general election and meet the following conditions:
- “The sign is placed in a public right-of-way that is owned or controlled by that jurisdiction.
- The sign supports or opposes a candidate for public office or it supports or opposes a ballot measure.
- The sign is not placed in a location that is hazardous to public safety, obstructs clear vision in the area or interferes with the requirements of the Americans with disabilities act (42 United States Code sections 12101 through 12213 and 47 United States Code sections 225 and 611).
- The sign has a maximum area of sixteen square feet, if the sign is located in an area zoned for residential use, or a maximum area of thirty-two square feet if the sign is located in any other area.
- The sign contains the name and telephone number or website address of the candidate or campaign committee contact person.”
Sign thieves beware: Arizona law also specifies that removing, altering, defacing, or covering a political sign is a class 2 misdemeanor.
Arizona has fairly specific regulations limiting the power of homeowners associations to restrict political signage. ARS 16-33-1808 states that HOA’s may not prohibit the display of political signage. They may, however, forbid members from posting signs more than 71 days before and 3 days after the election. If the municipality where the HOA is located restricts the size or number of political signs, the HOA can also regulate sign size and number, provided that the HOA rule is not more restrictive than the local ordinance. If no local size or quantity regulations exist, the HOA cannot set their own rules, but may require the total square footage of signs to be less than 9 feet. Rules that govern the number of candidates supported, require the signs to be professionally made, or prevent signs from being two-sided are not allowed.
The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department specifies that political signs may not be placed in the public right-of-way adjacent to state highways. Small signs that violate this rule will be removed without notice, while the department will give the campaign the opportunity to remove larger signs. See this September 2012 information release for more details.
The California Fair Political Practices commission interprets the recent Political Reform Act to mean that political signs for ballot measures must contain a disclaimer that lists the name of the person or group paying for the sign, as well as the top two donors to the organization who contributed more than $50,000. Yard signs funded by a candidate or his/her campaign need only include a basic disclaimer, which states “Paid for by (name of group).” Candidates distributing political signs in California are also required to complete a “Statement of Responsibility.” Those who fill out this form must acknowledge responsibility for any temporary signs that are produced by the campaign.
The California Department of Transportation prohibits political signs from being placed in locations within the public right-of-way or be seen within 660 feet from the edge of the right-of-way for a designated “Landscaped Freeway.” The DOT also specifies that signs may not be in place more than 90 days before or 10 days after the relevant election. The Department has issued the following warning:
“State law directs the Department of Transportation to remove unauthorized Temporary Political Signs and bill the responsible party for their removal. We are calling these provisions to your attention to avoid possible embarrassment or inconvenience to you and your supporters” (emphasis added).
In sum, signs that are within prohibited areas (public rights-of-way and areas less than 660 feet from the edge of Landscaped Freeway rights-of-way), put up too early (sooner than 90 days before the election), or taken down too late (more than 10 days after the election) will be removed by the DOT at the expense of the campaign.
The Colorado Department of Transportation bans the placement of yard signs within state rights-of-way. A May 2014 memo reminds campaigns and political enthusiasts that signs that violate this rule will be removed by CDOT crews. Colorado law also prohibits the unauthorized removal of campaign signage. Per C.R.S. 1-13-113, removing, destroying or defacing a properly placed political sign within the period 45 days before and 4 days after any election is a misdemeanor. If caught, sign vandals could be fined up to 750 dollars. Moral of the story: suppress your mischievous impulses and leave the signs where they are. Local jurisdictions often have their own political sign regulations, so candidates should check municipal ordinances for further restrictions.
Although Connecticut election laws require many forms of political advertising to identify their sponsors, the law (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-621) specifically exempts yard signs under 32 square feet from this rule. Another campaign finance law, the new “Citizens Election Program,” states that candidates must value any signage from past elections in order to receive public funding for their campaign. Those with more than 100 signs will receive less public funding than those who do not already have signs. The Connecticut Secretary of State provides a detailed list of Frequently Asked Questions about the lawn sign valuation requirement.
Political signs in Connecticut may not be displayed within a 75 foot radius of a polling location on the day of an election (Sec. 9-236).
Like many other states, Delaware law (25 Delaware Code § 81-524) prohibits the display of political signs within the state right-of-way. Signs in violation of this law will be removed by the Delaware Department of Transportation and responsible parties will be fined 25 dollars, with an additional 15 dollar fee for retrieval. (According to a video on DepDot’s website, over 36,000 signs were removed in a single year—it seems they are pretty serious about enforcement). During election season (30 days before and 30 days after any election), the Department of Transportation allows signage to be displayed in some parts of the state rights-of-way, as specified by a clearly labeled signage placement diagram on the DOT’s website. The diagram specifies that signs are always off-limits on road medians, shoulders, and areas within 10 feet of the shoulder. Signs may not be placed on utility poles at any time.
When it comes to disclosure requirements, 15 Del. C. § 8021 indicates that political advertisements in Delaware (presumably including campaign yard signs) must contain a disclaimer that identifies the people that paid for the signage by stating “Paid for by (name of person/group).”
Delaware also has laws that limit the ability of homeowners associations to regulate political signage. 25 Delaware Code § 81-320 , states:
“Unless the declaration otherwise provides, no rule may prohibit the display . . . [of] signs regarding candidates for public office or ballot questions, but the association may adopt rules governing the time, place, size, number or manner of those displays.”
In other words, unless the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (the legal document put in place when the community is created) specifically restricts the display of signs, the HOA may not prevent members from posting signs by issuing new rules or bylaws to that effect; they may, however, make guidelines for when and where signs may be placed as well as the number and size of signs.
As required by Section 106.143 of the Florida Statutes, political signage in Florida must contain one of the following statements:
“Political advertisement paid for and approved by (name of candidate) , (party affiliation) for (office sought).”
“Paid by (name of candidate), (party affiliation) for (office sought).”
In practice, one of these statements is usually placed near the bottom of the lawn sign in small but visible letters.
In terms of sign location, Section 479.11 FS states that no signs may be placed within 660 feet of the edge of the right-of-way of any state or federal highway or within 100 feet of a church, school, cemetery, public park, reservation, playground, or state/national forest. Additionally, signs in areas that are next to the state or federal right-of-way that are attached to trees, in poor condition or otherwise unsafe may be removed. According to a recent notice by the Florida Department of Transportation, campaigns are advised to instruct their volunteers to place signs only on private property. Florida candidates should observe these rules to prevent their signs from being impounded.
Georgia Code § 32-6-51 states that campaign signs cannot be placed in the right-of-way of any public road. Municipalities and counties may, however, adopt ordinances that allow signage to be placed in the rights-of-way of municipal/county roads.
The Georgia Department of Transportation has officially stated that they will remove “any and all signs” from the state right-of-way. Furthermore, failure to obey this law could result in a misdemeanor, so candidates should make sure that their signs are placed only in authorized areas. On Election Day, signs are prohibited within 150 feet of any building where voting is taking place as well as within 25 feet of any voter standing in line to vote (Georgia Code § 21-2-414).
Campaign signs in Hawaii are subject to specific content requirements. HRS §11-391 states that political yard signage must display the name and address of the person or group paying for the sign as well as a prominent notice that the sign is approved by (if funded by the campaign) or not approved by (if funded by a third party). If any sign fails to include this information, the responsible entity will be fined 25 dollars for each sign, up to 5,000 dollars.
Similar to other states, Hawaii does not allow political signage to be placed in the rights-of-way of state or federal highways. HRS §264-72 specifies that temporary signage may not be placed “outside the right-of-way boundary and visible from the main-traveled way of any federal-aid or state highway.” Additionally the federal guidelines for signage along interstate and primary highways also apply. Hawaii also has electioneering rules that among other things, state that political signs or posted may not be positioned within 200 feet of the designated polling place from 1 hour before the polls open until they close. For more details, see this factsheet on campaign signs compiled by the Hawaii Office of Elections.
In Idaho, campaign signs must indicate the person or group that provides the funding for the sign (IC 67-6614A). IC 40-1910 also prohibits signs from being placed within the rights-of-way of any highways, in areas that are visible from interstate or primary highways, or in drainage ditches. The Idaho Transportation Department has stated that it will not grant any exceptions to this rule under any circumstances. Signs must not imitate danger or directional signs and should be kept in good repair. Signs placed in restricted areas will be removed by the Transportation Department. Additionally, IC 18-7029 says that anyone who places a political sign on public or private property without permission is guilty of a misdemeanor.
In Illinois, campaign season never ends. Under 65 ILCS 5/11-13-1, municipalities many not prevent the display of political yard signs on residential property at any time, though they may adopt reasonable restrictions governing sign size. Signs may not, however, be placed or held in the designated “campaign free zone,” the area within 100 feet of the door to the polling location (as stated in 10 ILCS 5/7-41).
Illinois law also specifies that campaign communications (including yard signs) that include the name of a candidate must clearly identify the political committee (or other entity) paying for the sign (see 10 ILCS 5/9-9.5).
Like several other states, Indiana requires (IC 3-9-3-2.5) that candidate yard signs distributed to more than 100 people include a disclaimer that states the person or organization that paid for the sign. The sign must be in at least 12 point font and use a color contrast and placement scheme that allow the text to be easily read. If the sign is not made by the campaign (i.e. it is produced by a third party such as a Super PAC), the sign must specifically state that the candidate in question does or does not authorize the sign. The penalty for omitting the required disclaimers is stiff– up to 5,000 dollars and/or up to 1 year in jail.
Indiana law (IC 3-14-3-16) also states that political signs should not be displayed within polling stations or the “chute” (the area 50 feet in length from the entrance the voting location). Anyone who knowingly displays signs or participates in other forms of electioneering may be found guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
Signs of any type are not allowed on highway rights-of-way; non-compliant signs are considered a public nuisance and will be removed by the entity responsible for the highway (IC 9-21-4-6). In general, signs may not be placed on either public or private property without the permission of the owner or responsible party. Check out the Indiana Election Division’s list of campaign signage FAQ’s for more information.
According to Iowa Code 68A.406, campaign signs are not allowed to be posted on any land owned by the state of Iowa or any city, county, or other local entity/political sub-division. On election day, signs may not be displayed at the polls or within 300 feet of the building door. To place signs on private property, campaigns must obtain the permission of the property owner. Signs are also prohibited on any public rights-of-way. Signs that violate any of the above placement rules may be confiscated. The Iowa Department of Transportation has stated that signs that pose a public hazard will be immediately removed at the owner’s expense. Otherwise, the campaign will be given 48 hours to remove the signs, after which the signs will be removed, with costs billed to the campaign. The Iowa Department of Transportation provides an outdoor signage guide and campaign sign FAQ’s with detailed explanations of these rules.
Although Iowa has some attribution requirements for political advertising, campaign signs that are less than 32 square feet in total area are exempt from this requirement.
Per KSA § 25-2430(a), signs are illegal in the area within a 250 foot radius of a voting location on the day of an election. Additionally, in a June 2014 press release, the Kansas Department of Transportation reminds citizens and candidates that campaign signs may not be placed in state rights-of-way. Signs found in prohibited areas will be removed without notice. Signs are allowed on private property that borders a right-of-way. Of course, any signs placed on private property must be authorized by the property owner.
Kansas law (Statute 58-3820) also specifies that homeowners associations may not prohibit the display of political signage less than 6 square feet within the period 45 days before and 2 days after any election. Any restrictive covenants that ban campaign signs from being displayed are voided by state law.
With regard to sponsor disclosure, a list of election FAQ’s published by the Governmental Ethics Commission specifically states that campaign lawn signs are not required to include a “paid for” disclaimer.
In an effort to help identify campaign contributors, Kentucky Statute 121.190 requires political signs to include the words “Paid for by” followed by the name and address of the responsible person or party. Kentucky election laws (117.235) further stipulate that campaign signage cannot be placed or held within 300 feet of a building where voting occurs. Additionally, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet does not allow signage to be placed within public rights-of-way., including utility poles within the right-of-way. Signs within these areas will be subject to removal by highway crews.
Louisiana requires candidates to sign a certificate that states that he or she is aware of laws that relate to the posting of political signs on public property, rights-of-way, or utility poles. The relevant law (RS 18:463) stipulates:
“Whoever so erects, displays, or posts political campaign signs on any publicly owned property or right-of-way, or to or on any public utility pole or stanchion shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be fined not in excess of one hundred dollars or imprisoned for not more than thirty days, or both.”
In other words, candidates should inform their campaign workers and supporters that signs must not be posted in prohibited locations. Otherwise, the campaign itself may be held responsible and charged with the penalties described above.
Louisiana also has laws governing the display of signs near voting locations; these laws are somewhat more restrictive than comparable regulations in other states. RS 18:1462 states that campaign signs may not be displayed within a 600 foot radius of a polling place between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. on an election day.
Additionally, Lousiana requires political material to contain a disclaimer that names the person or group that paid for the communication. Based on the language of the statute (RS 18:1463) it seems that yard signs should provide these disclosures. If the signs are funded by the candidate or his/her authorized committee the disclaimer should say “Paid for by (name of candidate/committee).” If the signs are funded by another group, the sign should indicate who paid for the sign and whether or not the sign is authorized by the candidate or campaign.
For the most part, political signage in Maine must include a disclaimer that states the name and address of the group that paid for the sign and that the sign was authorized by the candidate (see Title 21-A §1014-1). Handmade signs are exempt from these requirements.
The Maine Department of Transportation political signage regulations indicate that campaign signs are not permitted on the rights-of-way of any Controlled Access or Interstate highway. Furthermore, signs may not be attached to utility pole trees, rocks, traffic sign or signal posts, guard rails, guide posts, or utility pole within the highway right-of-way. Finally, Maine statute Title 21-A §682 also specifies that campaign signs may not be held or posted on public property within 250 feet of the entrance to the polling facility on election day.
Campaign signage requirements in Maryland (§ 13-401 of the Election Law Article) require each political sign to contain an “authority line” that states the name and address of the person responsible for producing and distributing the sign (the address is not required if it is on file with the State Board of Elections). For example, the caption might read “Committee to elect Jane Doe, John Smith, treasurer.” See section 12.1 of the Maryland Elections Guide for more details. With regard to sign placement, campaign signs do not require a permit but are prohibited from being placed on public rights-of-way, road shoulders, or medians. See the Maryland Highway Administration’s outdoor advertising FAQ’s for further information. On days when elections are held, signs are not allowed within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling location (MAC 33, § 16-206).
In general, campaign sign content is not regulated by the commonwealth of Massachusetts. State law (950 CMR 53.03) does, however, specify that signs cannot be displayed within 150 feet of a voting location on the day of an election. As far as we can tell, laws governing sign placement in the rights-of-way of roads are generally implemented at the local level in Massachusetts.
Under section 169.247 of the Michigan Code of Laws, political yard signage in Michigan, whether for a candidate or ballot question, must include a disclaimer that states “Paid for by” (candidate/committee name), (candidate/committee address). If the sign is not approved in writing by the candidate (i.e. it is funded by an independent entity) the disclaimer should state: “Paid for by (name and address of person, group or committee paying for the matter). Not authorized by any Candidate Committee.” All disclaimers must be clearly printed so as to be readable by an observer. In addition to these content requirements, the Michigan Department of Transportation has established the following campaign yard sign rules:
- “Political candidates are responsible for obtaining approval from the adjacent property owner to place the signs.
- Signs must be removed within 10 days following an election.
- Signs must be more than 30 feet from the edge of the roadway (white line) for highways that do not have curbs. For highways with curbs, the signs must be more than three feet from the back of the curb.
- Signs are not permitted within areas used for clear vision at intersections or commercial driveways, so they will not interfere with the sight distance of a driver. No signs may be placed within the limited access rights-of-way.
- Any illegally placed signs will be removed. Signs removed by MDOT crews will be kept for seven days at a local MDOT office or maintenance garage, then discarded.”
According to Minnesota Statutes 211B.04, campaign signage produced by a candidate or his/her committee must contain a disclaimer that states “Prepared and paid for by the ____ committee, address).” If the sign is funded by an entity not directly affiliated with the campaign, the disclaimer must say “Prepared and paid for by the ____ committee, (address), in support of (name of candidate or ballot question).” Failure to include the required disclaimer on a political sign is a misdemeanor.
As far as sign placement goes, campaign signs in Minnesota are subject to section 160.2715 of the Minnesota Statues, which holds that signs may not be displayed within the limits of any highway in the state, including the public right-of-way. The state’s outdoor advertising law (173.15) further prohibits signs from being placed on public utility poles, trees and rocks, or on private land without the consent of the owner. Signs in prohibited areas will be removed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (See this 2014 letter from MnDOT for specific application to political signage).
The Minnesota Secretary of State website clarifies that during state election years, any municipal laws governing the time when campaign signs may be displayed are overruled by Minnesota Statutes 211B.04, which holds that signs are permitted within the period that starts 46 days before the primary election and ends 10 days after the general election. If a municipality doesn’t have any rules about when signs may be placed, they are allowed year round by default. Finally, 211B.11 prohibits signs from being posted within 100 feet of the polling location building on the day of an election. Violation of this law is a petty misdemeanor.
Although the Mississippi political advertising statute (Miss. Code Ann. § 23-15-897) is somewhat difficult to interpret, it seems that political advertisements must include an attribution line that states something to the effect of: “Paid Political Advertisement. Approved and paid for by (Candidate/Committee).” This disclaimer should also state name and address of both the author and publisher of the communication. These laws appear to apply to political yard signs, since the section of code that establishes the penalty for failure to include these disclaimers (§ 23-15-899 ) also prohibits the removal or defacement of legally posted signage.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation recently released a press release reminding candidates that campaign signs may not be placed on the rights-of-way of any interstate or other highways. Signs within these prohibited areas will be removed by MDOT staff and can be retrieved at no charge. Section 23-15-895 of the Mississippi code also bans the display of campaign signs within 150 feet of a voting location on the day of an election.
As in many other states, Missouri law (MRS section 130.031) requires campaign signs to include a notice that identifies the funding source for the signs. This notice must state “Paid for by” followed by the name of the sponsor. If the candidate pays for the signs out of personal funds, the sign need only state his or her first and last name. If the candidate’s political committee pays for the signage, the disclaimer should state the committee name as well as the name and title of the committee treasurer. On the other hand, if the signage was funded by a business, the disclaimer should state the business name, address, and the name of the presiding officer. If an individual or group of individuals produces signs, the name and address of each contributor should be printed on the sign (if there are more than 5 individuals, the sign may simply state “For a list of other sponsors contact: ____.”
Missouri also has rules for where signs can be placed. For instance, the Missouri Department of Transportation recently published a news release reminding candidates that campaign yard signs may not be placed in the public right-of-way of a state road. Additionally, Missouri electioneering laws hold that campaign signs are not allowed within 25 feet of a designated polling location on the day of an election (see MRS Section 115.637).
Section 13-35-225 of the Montana Code states that campaign signage in Montana must include a disclaimer that states “Paid for by” followed by the name and address of the candidate or campaign responsible for the signs. If a third party committee (such as a political action committee) produces signs, the disclaimer must state the name and address of the group, as well as the name and title of the group’s treasurer. These disclaimers must be located on the front of the yard sign in at least ¼ inch letters (24 point font). If signs are used in a partisan election (an election in which political parties are identified), they must also contain the symbol for the candidate’s party. (See also Montana’s overview of these election laws.)
In addition to the content restrictions described above, the Montana Department of Transportation enforces Administrative Rule 18.6.246, which governs sign placement. The rule states that political signs must not be placed on any public right-of-way, nor on the fences that border the right-of-way. Signs may not obstruct the line of vision of drivers, be placed within 500 feet of an intersection, imitate a traffic sign, use lighting, or be placed within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling location. All signage must be removed within 14 days after the relevant election takes place. Because candidates are responsible for making sure that signs are in compliance, campaigns should instruct supporters to place signs only in permitted areas to avoid sign confiscation.
Although yard signs are exempt from any disclaimer requirements, Nebraska law (NRS 49-1474.01) requires campaign posters to contain the name and address of the person who provided funding. The Nebraska Department of Roads regulations state that campaign signs must not be placed on the state right-of-way (including intersections, medians, shoulders, road entrances/exits, sidewalks, and ditches). Signs are not permitted on utility poles or fences within the right-of-way. Electioneering, which presumably includes the display of political signage, is not allowed within 200 feet of a voting location while the polls are open (see NRS 32-1524).
Per the Nevada Department of Transportation’s political sign regulations, yard signs are not allowed on the state right-of-way, which is usually the area around state highways (which can include country roads and city streets). The right-of-way may encompass the sidewalk. Signs should not look like traffic signs, distract drivers, block traffic visibility, or be posted on public utility poles. Any signs that violate these rules will be confiscated by NDOT; they can usually be retrieved at the NDOT office nearest the location where the signs were picked up. For additional information about where signs may be placed, see NRS405.110.
NRS 410.400(4) states that political signs in permitted areas along state and primary highways must only be displayed within the period between 60 days before the primary election and 30 days after the general election (assuming the candidate wins in the primary election—otherwise, the signs must come down within 30 days of the primary). Lastly, the state of Nevada prohibits signs from being displayed within 100 feet of a polling location on days where voting is taking place (NRS293.740).
Nevada law (NRS 294A.348) also states that any political advertisement that costs more than $100 should disclose the name, address, phone number, and internet address of the candidate that approved it. While most signs likely cost significantly less than $100, extremely large signs may need to comply with this rule.
New Hampshire law (RSA 664:17) states that campaign signs should not be placed on either private or public property (including highway rights-of way) without the consent of the land owner. Signs should be taken down by the second Friday after the election and should not be attached to public utility poles or traffic signs. That said, the statute goes on to say that:
“Political advertising may be placed within state-owned rights-of-way as long as the advertising does not obstruct the safe flow of traffic and the advertising is placed with the consent of the owner of the land over which the right-of-way passes.”
The law above also outlines penalties for those who steal or destroy appropriately displayed political signs—guilty parties could face fines of up to $1,000. In terms of sign content, New Hampshire regulations (RSA 664:14) stipulate that political signs that are funded by the candidate or his/her campaign should be signed with the names and addresses of the candidate and his/her fiscal agent, chairman, or treasurer. This disclaimer should also include the name of the person or group for whom the sign is displayed. If a business or other group produces the sign, it must contain the name of the organization as well as the signature and address of the chairman or treasurer.
Campaign communication in New Jersey (including yard signs) must contain a disclaimer that states the name and address of the person or group (as it appears on election commission reports) that financed the sign (19:44A-22.3). In addition to the sign content requirements above, New Jersey also has laws concerning where signs can be displayed. Besides official signs (such as traffic signs) erected by the state, New Jersey Statute 27:5-10 (19:34-6).
Section 1-19-17 of the New Mexico Code states that printed campaign materials must name the person or group who sponsored the communication. While it is unclear whether this provision applies to political yard signs, it seems likely that this is the case. According to section 18.104.22.168 of the New Mexico Administrative Code, political signage is not allowed in highway rights-of-way and should not be positioned or designed in ways that distract drivers. New Mexico law (1-20-16) also bans the display of signs within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling location on the day of an election.
The New York Department of Transportation’s guidelines for political signs (outlined in a 2007 press release) state that political signs may not be placed on any controlled access road or expressway, areas that interfere with roadside maintenance (mowing, etc.), block lines of sight, distract drivers, or be placed on road medians. The Department states that “If temporary signs of any kind are placed in any of these areas and cause problems, NYSDOT will remove them.” Candidates should make sure that campaign workers and volunteers place signs only in approved areas in order to avoid the costly and inconvenient process of having signs confiscated.
Per the New York Board of Elections’ campaign finance handbook, political yard signs are not required to include a “paid for by” disclaimer. Candidates should consult local laws to make sure that their jurisdictions do not have disclosure regulations that are more stringent than those at the state level.
Unlike many other states, North Carolina law (GS § 136-32) specifically allows political signs to be placed in the public right-of-way during the period between 30 days before the start of early voting and 10 days after the relevant election. To remain in the right-of-way, however, the sign must conform to the following requirements (quoted directly from statute):
- “No sign shall be permitted in the right-of-way of a fully controlled access highway.
- No sign shall be closer than three feet from the edge of the pavement of the road.
- No sign shall obscure motorist visibility at an intersection.
- No sign shall be higher than 42 inches above the edge of the pavement of the road.
- No sign shall be larger than 864 square inches.
- No sign shall obscure or replace another sign.”
The law also states that those who steal, destroy, or deface appropriately placed signs may be charged with a Class 3 misdemeanor. On another note, North Carolina requires (§ 163-278.39) many forms of political advertisements to include a line that states “Paid for by ____ [Name of candidate, candidate campaign committee, political party organization, political action committee, referendum committee, individual, or other sponsor]” and uses font that is at least 5 percent of the sign area and not smaller than 12 pt. We assume that this requirement applies to campaign yard signs.
North Dakota Century Code, section 16.1-10-04.1 requires political signs to disclose the name of the person, group, or political party that pays for the sign. If a group or party is identified, the disclaimer should also contain the name of the party or group chairman. Chapter 24-17 of the state code also specifies that while temporary political signs are allowed on private property that is within 660 feet of highway rights-of-way, campaign signs are not permitted on the actual state right-of-way.
Signs are also not allowed within 100 feet of any voting location during the time that the polls are open. North Dakota also has laws that preserve citizens’ ability to express themselves politically, regardless of where they live. Under code section 47-04-32, homeowners’ association restrictive covenants may not prohibit the display of political signs 60 days before any election. They may, however, adopt “reasonable rules” regarding the placement of signs.
Campaign signage in Ohio is required to include a disclaimer that states “Paid for by” and includes the name and address of the person or group responsible for the sign (ORC 3517.20). If a group, such as a business, political party, or political action committee funds the sign, the disclaimer should include the name of the chairperson or treasurer of the responsible entity. If the sign is not expressly approved by the candidate that it promotes, the sign must also state that it is not authorized by the candidate or his/her committee (ORC 3517.105). Ohio law (ORC 5516.06) also provides that temporary signage (including political sings) may not be placed within 660 feet of the edge of the right-of-way for state highways. Signs may not be displayed in the 100 foot area surrounding a polling location on the day of an election.
According to 69 O.S. 1208, political signs in Oklahoma may not be placed in the public right-of-way along a state or federal highway. Signs that are displayed in unauthorized areas are considered a public nuisance and may be removed. Oklahoma also has specific election-day sign placement restrictions. O.S. §26-7-108 limits sign display in the following manner:
“No printed material other than that provided by the election board shall be publicly placed or exposed within three hundred (300) feet of any ballot box, while an election is in progress.”
Candidates should make supporters aware of sign placement rules in order to avoid having signs confiscated.
In Oregon, political signs are not allowed within 100 feet of a voting location on Election Day (260.695). Additionally, signs are not allowed to be positioned within the public right-of-way of state or federal highways. Signs that are attached to private fences that border highways may be regulated by the Oregon Department of Transportation. Any such signs that constitute a hazard to public safety could be removed by ODOT employees.
Although Oregon previously had a law that required campaign signs to identify their sponsors, the law was repealed due to concerns over constitutionality. Campaigns should verify that local laws do not still have disclaimer laws on the books.
Pennsylvania statute (§ 181.1) requires that campaign signs that are approved by a candidate or campaign must have a line that states that the sign is authorized by the candidate. Alternatively, if the sign is not authorized by the campaign, the sign should say so. In terms of sign placement, Pennsylvania does not allow signs to be placed within a room where voting is being held (§ 1220(c)). Also, according to a recent Pennsylvania Department of Transportation signage brochure, signs should not be placed in the public right-of-way, including utility poles. PennDot is legally required to remove signs that violate this law—owners will receive a warning that the sign must be removed, after which the sign will be confiscated and fees of up to $500 may be assessed.
Rhode Island is one of few states to have a signage law that specifically addresses negative advertisement. Any sign that makes negative comments about another candidate or is designed to defeat the candidate must include the name and address of the author and the names of the group chairperson and secretary, or else two other group officers (§ 17-23-2). On the day of an election, campaign signage in Rhode Island should not be placed or displayed within 50 feet of the entrance to a building where voting is conducted (§ 17-19-49). Political yard signs are also banned from being placed on the state right-of-way—the Rhode Island Department of Transportation will remove signs that violate this rule.
Although South Carolina requires many forms of political advertising to include sponsor information on the sign, yard signs are specifically exempted from disclosure rules. The state does, however, have regulations that make it illegal to steal or vandalize campaign signage. Anyone caught removing or defacing signs could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $100 and/or face 30 days in jail (Section 7-25-210). Signs may be erected within the right-of-way of a highway, so long as they are displayed for 90 days or less. Signs should not ever be placed on public utility poles. Once again, those who ignore this could be guilty of a misdemeanor and face fines or jail time (Section 57-25-10). Additionally, political posters (presumably including lawn signs) are not allowed within 200 feet of any South Carolina voting station on the day of an election.
In an attempt to increase transparency in campaign advertisement, South Dakota law (12-27-15) requires any political signs that advocate for or against a candidate or ballot question to include the notice “Paid for by (Name of candidate, political committee, or political party).” South Dakota also has restrictions on where and when political yard signs can be erected. 12-18-3 states that signs cannot be placed within 100 feet of any polling location on the day of an election. Additionally, 31-28-14 states that campaign signs cannot be placed on public highways, within the adjacent right-of-way, or on traffic signs or signals. In May 2014, the South Dakota Department of Transportation issued a press release that declares their intention to confiscate any signs that are placed in unauthorized areas.
Under Tennessee law (Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-19-120), any campaign sign that advocates for or against the election of a candidate or that seek campaign contributions must have a disclaimer that clearly states who paid for the sign. The required information for this disclaimer varies by the person or group that sponsors the signage. If the candidate or his/her committee authorizes and pays for the sign, the disclaimer should say that the sign was paid for by the candidate/committee and list the name of the committee chairperson or treasurer. If the sign is authorized by the candidate but funded by another person or group, the sign should state that the sign was paid for by the other entity but is authorized by the candidate. Finally, if the sign was not paid for or authorized by the candidate, the disclaimer must specify who paid for the sign and state that it is not authorized by the candidate.
In addition to these sign content requirements, Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-111 establishes laws concerning sign placement, namely that campaign signs cannot be displayed or posted within 100 feet of the entrance to a voting location on election day. On a related note, signs cannot be placed within the right-of-way of a public highway, particularly those designated as main traveled roads (Tenn. Code Ann. § 54-5-703).
As part of the recently updated state election code, Texas requires political signage to contain several disclaimers on the face of the sign. First, political signs should include a statement that identifies the sign as “political advertising,” as well as the full name of either the person who paid for the sign, the political committee that commissioned the sign, or the candidate ( Title 15, Section 255.001). A committee name (such as “Committee to Elect Candidate X’) should only be listed if the committee has filed a campaign treasurer appointment with relevant authorities.
Second, Title 15, Section 255.007 of the Texas Election Code stipulates that campaign signs must feature the following right-of-way disclaimer (verbatim):
“NOTICE: IT IS A VIOLATION OF STATE LAW (CHAPTERS 392 AND 393, TRANSPORTATION CODE) TO PLACE THIS SIGN IN THE RIGHT-OF-WAY OF A HIGHWAY.”
This statement is intended to ensure that signs are not placed on highway rights-of-way, as mandated by Title 6, Sec. 393.002 of the Texas Transportation Code. Texas also prohibits the display of political signs within 100 feet of a polling location at any time that voting is taking place (Title 6, Sec. 61.003 – Election Code).
In Utah, lawn signs that are smaller than 4 by 8 feet are not required to identify the funding source for the sign (20A-11-901). Signs are, however, subject to certain sign placement laws. Section 72-7-104 of the Utah Code forbids the display of signs on highway rights-of-way. Because utility poles are typically located in the right-of-way, they are usually off-limits to political signage. If signs are posted in the right-of-way in violation of this rule, the relevant highway authority will give the person or group responsible for the signs written notice that the signs will be removed (at the owner’s expense) if not retrieved within 10 days. What’s more, unauthorized signs will incur a $10 fine for each day that they remain in a restricted area after the notice was conveyed.
Utah law (20A-3-501) also prohibits electioneering within 150 feet of a polling precinct building. That said, this same law also specifically states that municipalities may not regulate campaign signage on private property in areas more than 150 feet from a polling place other than to make sign placement rules to promote public safety.
In order to identify campaign advertisement sponsors, Vermont election laws (17 V.S.A. § 2892) state that campaign signage must contain the name and address of the person or group who paid for its production. When it comes to sign placement, the Vermont Agency of Transportation states that signs are not allowed in the highway right-of-way or on utility poles. According to a recent agency new release, “most right-of-ways in Vermont are at least 49.5 feet wide, extending 24.75 feet on either side of the centerline and often are wider.” In other words, campaigns and volunteers should be cautious when placing signs around state highways. VTRANS employees will remove any signs that are in prohibited areas.
In addition to these outdoor sign rules, Vermont also has regulations for where signs may be placed at polling places. On days when voting is held, political signage can be regulated by the presiding officer at each voting location (17 V.S.A. § 2508). The presiding officer can regulate the placement of signs, provided that the rules are applied equally to all candidates. Signs are not allowed in the room where polling occurs.
At present, it is illegal in Virginia to put a political sign within the limits of a state highway, or on any traffic sign, fence, natural object therein (§ 33.1-373). Violators will be fined $100 for offending signs, which may be removed by the Virginia Department of Transportation. That said, this statute will be repealed effective October 2014, so it is unclear whether political signs can be placed within the state right-of-way after that date. See the VDOT outdoor advertising guidelines for more information.
In addition to these placement regulations, Virginia requires political signage to contain a disclaimer that reads: “Paid for by [Name of candidate or campaign committee].” If the sign specifically references another candidate, the disclaimer must also state “Authorized by [Name of candidate], candidate for [Name of office]” OR “Not authorized by any other candidate.” These disclosures must be printed conspicuously in at least 7 pt font (see § 24.2-956).
According to RCW 47.42.030, signs cannot be placed so as to be visible from any scenic, primary or interstate highway. In general, signage is also not permitted in the state right-of-way. The Washington Department of Transportation provides the following guidelines for those trying to place signs near the right-of-way:
- “Utility poles are typically located inside the right-of-way. If a sign location is being considered between a utility pole and the roadway shoulder, it’s likely the sign will be removed.
- Many locations also have a fence line separating the right-of-way from private property. If a sign location is being considered on the roadway side of a right-of-way fence, it’s probable that the sign is in violation and will be removed.”
Campaign signs must be removed within 10 days after the last election the candidate participates in is over (WAC 468-66-050). The sign should state the party affiliation of the candidate mentioned, regardless of whether the candidate or his/her committee is responsible for the sign. Finally, Washington has specific laws that establish penalties for false advertising via political signage. Candidates must not falsely suggest that they are incumbents, print false information about opponents, use an assumed name, or imitate the state seal on any political signs (see the Public Disclosure Commission’s political advertising guidelines).
The West Virginia secretary of state’s campaign finance guidelines note that all political advertisements, including political signs, must have a disclaimer that states the name of the person who paid for production (see also WV §3-8-12). The election guidelines go on to state that political signs may not be erected within the state right-of-way, which is typically the area within 20 feet of the center of the road (on either side). Signs are not permitted on traffic signs, utility poles, natural features (rocks, trees, etc.), or overhead on state highways. Finally, West Virginia also prohibits electioneering (which likely includes displaying campaign signs) within 300 feet of any building where polling takes place on the day of an election (WV §3-9-9).
Political signs placed near state highways in Wisconsin are regulated by Wisconsin Administrative Code Trans 201.16, which states that political signs may not be placed within state rights-of-way. Campaign signs may, however, be displayed on private property adjacent to the right-of-way if all of the following conditions (quoted directly from statute) are satisfied:
- “The sign does not exceed 32 square feet in surface area.
- The sign is erected entirely on private property with the property owner’s consent.
- The sign is erected less than 45 days before the election for which it is intended and is removed within 7 days after the election except that a sign erected before a primary election may remain in place until 7 days after the next following general election if the sign solicits support for a candidate, political party or referendum question that is before the electorate in both the primary and the general election.
- The sign does not contain flashing lights or moving parts or in any other way fail to conform with Sec 84.30 (4) (b), Wis. Statutes.
- The sign is not erected in a location where it constitutes a traffic hazard.”
Signs placed in unauthorized locations will be fined between $10 and $100 for the first violation and between $10 and $500 for subsequent offenses (Sec. 86.19, Wis. Statutes). Other sign placement restrictions prohibit political signs from being displayed within 100 feet of a voting location while polls are open to the public (Sec. 12.03(2), Wis. Statutes).
Shifting gears, Wisconsin also has laws that require signs to contain specific information. The law states that political signage must identify the entity responsible by including a disclaimer that states “Paid for by,” followed by the person or group that paid for the signs and the name of the group’s treasurer. The name of the responsible party may not be abbreviated (Sec. 11.30(2)(b),Wis. Statutes). Lastly, Wisconsin law explicitly prohibits cities and municipalities from regulating the size, shape, content, or placement of political signs, unless the rules are related to public traffic safety. Furthermore, renters that exclusively occupy the dwelling in which they reside have the same rights as property owners to display campaign signage (Sec. 12.04(5), Wis. Statutes).
In Wyoming, political signs must not be placed within 100 yards of a polling location on the day of an election (W.S. 22-26-113). When it comes to putting signs along roads, Wyoming law (W.S. 22-25-115) allows municipalities to determine whether campaign signage can be displayed on local rights-of-way. If a municipality does not have a law governing sign placement, however, election signs will be allowed by default. For state roads within municipal borders, the Wyoming Department of Transportation will apply the sign rules that have been adopted locally. Since campaign sign ordinances can vary significantly by city, candidates should inform themselves of the laws in each area where they will be posting signs.
Wyoming law (WS 22-25-100) explicitly exempts yard signs from the disclosure guidelines imposed on other forms of campaign literature, so long as the sign displays the name of the candidate and the office he or she is seeking.