While the official start of summer brought with it unbearably high temperatures, the political season also is heating up in advance of the upcoming July 31 primary elections.
Elections mean campaign signs. And that often means violations of the law, in many cases by people seeking jobs writing and enforcing laws.
The Georgia Department of Transportation recently sent out an advisory warning candidates and their workers not to erect signs in rights-of-way.
“Any sign along Georgia’s state routes and interstates must meet safety standards and be permitted by Georgia DOT to be in our right of way,” the announcement states. “Typically we find signs that advertise yard sales, real estate for sale and/or political candidates on Department land adjacent to our roads. None of those types of signs are allowed and will be removed.”
(An aside: The DOT might want to eyeball those banners on the edge of Riverwatch Parkway in Augusta touting the T-SPLOST vote. Those seem a little too close to the highway.)
Like the DOT crews on state highways, Columbia County code enforcement crews also are forced to spend far too much time removing illegally planted signs from roadsides. It’s not just a problem during campaign season; businesses routinely stick signs next to streets, where they sit a couple of days until they’re removed by a county worker and hauled to a bin in Appling.
The sheer number of signs makes it pretty obvious that those putting out such signs know they’re breaking the law, but assume the only penalty is the loss of a cheap sign. That’s a negligible price to pay for getting a high-visibility spot in front of motorists for a few days.
But it’s also stealing from the public. The taxpayers’ land is being hijacked to provide advertising space for free to businesses and candidates. You couldn’t set up a hotdog stand or an oil-change business on a roadside right-of-way; why should anyone assume it’s likewise OK to put up a sign on such a site?
It should be pointed out that candidates themselves rarely are directly to blame for illegally posted signs; that’s typically the fault of overzealous volunteers. But candidates need to make it clear to their supporters that spamming the roadsides with placards is just flat wrong.
Perhaps stiffer penalties would help deter such theft of public property. In the meantime, citizens considering who to elect and with whom to do business should take illegally placed signs into account when making their decisions.