Campaign signs: the rules and wars
By JOSHUA ADAM HICKS
Bellevue Reporter Former Staff Writer
July 28, 2010 · Updated 11:32 AM
Campaign signs are cropping up all over Bellevue – and disappearing in many cases – as election time nears.
The signs may seem ubiquitous, but there are actually rules restricting where they can be, and for how long, on public or private property.
Campaign signs are allowed on city rights-of-way with certain restrictions, but they are prohibited on state-highway property.
The Washington Department of Transportation has a few clues to help distinguish the boundaries for state rights-of-way, since they're not always marked.
For instance, utility poles can make for good delineators, since they generally exist just outside of state property. A safe bet is to consider the area between highways and utility polls off limits, according to WSDOT.
Fence lines also serve as a separator between right-of-way and private property.
Temporary political signs are allowed on private property that is visible from state highways, but the following rules apply: the signs must comply with Washington Administrative Code, they can't be larger than 32 square feet in area, and they must come down within 10 days of an election.
Bellevue code requires signs to be removed sooner, within one week of an election. The city sends out three reminder letters to campaign organizations leading up to election day.
Political signs are not allowed on utility poles, nor on public buildings or structures in Bellevue.
Signs are allowed on city rights-of-way, so long as they do not obstruct traffic or create a hazard. Their size must be limited to 4 square feet and 5 feet in height. On private property in Bellevue, the size limit for any one sign is no larger than 32 square feet and the total of all signs can't exceed 60 square feet.
Responsibility for removing signs rests with campaign officers.
Political signs on private property cannot be larger than 32 square feet, and the total of all signs on a given piece of private land cannot exceed 64 square feet.
The penalty for violating sign rules in Bellevue is $100 per sign. The city handed out 34 citations in 2008, but there have been only four so far this year.
The most common complaints about campaign signs are related to clutter and lines of sight in the rights of way, according Bellevue assistant development director Joe Guinasso.
Knowing the guidelines for sign placement is only half the concern for most campaigns. Sign theft is widespread during the thick of an election cycle, and it causes more distress for some than others.
State senator Rodney Tom of Medina said he's accustomed to losing around 75 percent of his signs during a campaign.
"They disappear," he said. "It's kind of like socks in the dryer."
Tom's opponent, political newcomer Gregg Bennett, is not so familiar with the game. He said he felt frustrated and helpless after losing around 100 signs in one night, followed by an incident in which he caught a man in the act of systematically stealing more.
Campaign signs generally cost around $4 apiece.
A police report shows that Bellevue resident Doug Stock took Bennett's signs and later returned them to police following an investigation.
Bennett called Tom and left a message suggesting that the incumbent senator had encouraged the thefts. He also threatened to have a team of his teenage supporters retaliate with some sign removals of their own.
Tom denies that he had anything to do with the thefts, and he says Stock has no involvement with his campaign.
"This is my fourth election," he said. "I have always told every campaign worker that you never touch an opponent's signs."
Bennett explained his phone message to The Reporter, saying: "It was an emotional thing. I'd just been notified that a bunch of my signs were stolen, and then I caught some people red-handed. I was upset, and I called (Tom) not knowing what to do."
Tom said Bennett's threats indicate a "lack of judgement that shows he does not have the values to be a state senator."
As for any lingering resentment about the disappearance of his signs, Bennett said he's ready to move on.
"I want to talk about the issues, not get distracted by this stuff," he said.
Tom claims many more of his signs have disappeared since Bennett called him.
Bennett, however, issued a statement to his campaign this week saying: "I need to make sure that I am clear that stealing yard signs is not something we do; it is against the law and it just isn't ethical."