Nearly four months after the 2018 election, there’s at least one lingering reminder of it: campaign signs.
Posted along roads, tacked to fences or knocked over in the wind, campaign signs remain in public view long after the campaigns end. However, beyond reporting the leftovers to county officials, there is little residents can do to make them go away.
There is no county law stating that signs have to removed within a specific number of days after an election, Frederick County Election Director Stuart Harvey said on Thursday. Any campaign signs left may still be standing because no one has contacted his office with complaints, he said.
The county used to have an ordinance that set a time limit for signs before and after elections, but that it was revised several years ago, County Attorney John Mathias said via email. That ordinance, which was revised in 2006, allowed campaign signs to be placed in the county between 45 days before the primary election, to 15 days after the general election.
“A Supreme Court decision from a few years ago likely made this type of sign regulation unconstitutional,” Mathias said.
The case was City of Ladue v. Gilleo, which the court offered an opinion in 1994. Two decades later, in 2014, the nation’s highest court ruled again that governments could not regulate signs based on their content in Reed v. Town of Gilbert. This made towns and cities across the country re-evaluate sign ordinances, since election signs could not be treated different from other signs.
Harvey and Dave Ennis, department head of the Office of Highway and Facility Maintenance in the county’s Division of Public Works, said Maryland’s State Highway Administration has jurisdiction on sign removal in the public right of way near state highways, such as U.S. 15. The county code does not allow any signs within the county public right of way, with a few exceptions, such as traffic signs, Mathias said.
If Ennis receives a complaint on a sign in a county public right of way, he will often direct that complaint to Harvey, whose office will then contact political campaigns and ask for the signs to be removed.
Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick & Carroll) has dealt with this personally after posting more than 500 signs in the last election campaign.
He and other Republicans attracted ire on Facebook after the election for still having signs visible in Frederick County over 100 days after the election.
Hough said he tries to collect most signs after the election, but he does not know the location of all the signs that carry his name. The signs are distributed by volunteers and delegates before the election, and there is no way to know where they all end up, he said.
He pushed back, however, that he has also seen more than just signs bearing his name still up in the county. And, if signs are on private property, then they can stay up year-round.
“I try to get them all when I can,” Hough said on Thursday.
Kevin Demosky, director of the county’s Department of Utilities and Solid Waste Management, said his office is not involved in the removal of campaign signs and sees them only if they are brought in as trash or recycling through the county transfer station. One way a sign is removed immediately from a county right of way is if a complaint comes in to Ennis’ office concerning the safety of the road or intersection.
“We try not to touch any campaign signs ... unless it’s an immediate safety hazard. So say people put signs at an intersection and it impedes traffic from seeing oncoming traffic, then we’ll go in and remove signs,” Ennis said.
Ennis said his office gets more complaints about trash and debris in the county right of way than campaign signs.
“We’re always looking to maintain a safe road and a safe condition in accordance with county code,” he said.
Staff writer Steve Bohnel contributed to this column.