When I received reports of malicious damage to political signs, my first instinct was to call the Illinois State Board of Elections. The person on the phone simply said this in response to my question of what people could do about broken signage: “Call the police.” Damaging political signs is no different from damaging any other property. It’s a crime. People who do it can be arrested (although my gut suspicion is that arrests for this type of crime rarely happen).
My next instinct was to Google the following, ‘better government association vandalized political signs,’ because I just knew that I’d find something of significance with that query. But I didn’t know that it would lead me to these ‘musings‘ forwarded by Gary Woll and posted on the BGA’s website a month ago:
The following are some of my worst personal memories of being a local elected official and/or candidate. Violence seemed, at times, to follow me. When I was running for re-election one year. The daughter of my opponent was arrested, with two friends, having been caught spraying three of our large yard signs with some horrible filthy words. Shortly after being bailed out, someone threw a brick through the back window of the car in our driveway with a “re-elect Woll” sign on it, but not the other car…
For the most part, I have not been the “victim” of hate campaign literature. But, during the same election where my signs and car were vandalized, on the Friday before the Tuesday election, an unsigned campaign piece arrived in the mail delineating a case, where I had been falsely accused, then found innocent of hitting a woman. Of course the literature did not mention the “not guilty” verdict. Another time similar literature was distributed to the audience at one of our board meetings. Am I a third rail?
Woll’s accounts demonstrate that political vandalism/crime is not unique to this particular election year. Other accounts, like the ones presented in an article published last year in a Washington State newspaper, demonstrate that this kind of behavior is hardly unique to Maywood. Which brings me to the bright side of this situation. Crime is apparently the mother of its own prevention. Here are some tips that I pulled from across the web for putting a stop to this behavior:
- Smile, you’re on candid camera:
Two men who tore down a Bush-Cheney sign and urinated on it were caught on videotape by Summit County Republican officials early Friday morning.
The videotape shows the men sneaking into the yard of a West Market Street home and bending the sign to the ground. The men struggled to rip the sign out of the ground by shaking it and pulling it but couldn’t get it off the posts, so they knocked it down. Sounds heard on the tape suggest the men urinated on the sign. They were white males, about 30 to 35 years old, well-dressed and well-groomed. They parked across the street in what police think was a foreign car, a Toyota or Honda.
Akron police Lt. Sylvia Trundle said depending on the amount of damage — officials estimate the sign’s value at $200 to $400 — the culprits could be charged with vandalism, but if the value is $500 or more they could face criminal damaging or criminal mischief charges. They are all misdemeanors and would carry a maximum sentence of six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
Speaking of video footage, the Mayor announced in his State of the Village address that Maywood had about 77 closed-circuit cameras installed throughout the town. Perhaps there’s some useful footage on one or more of these that might go some ways toward helping slow political vandalism? And some advice ( I think) to the campaigns: Maybe it’s not a bad idea to identify where these cameras are located and to place your signage within each camera’s field of view. Just a suggestion (perhaps naive) from a curious onlooker.
- Be Smart, Be Vigilant:
It’s a seasonal issue,” said Sgt. Fred Neiman with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.
Each election, the sheriff’s office deals with complaints about political signs being stolen or defaced, but it’s hard to catch people because they often work at night. He advises candidates to post signs in well-traveled, well-lit areas and to call 911 if they see vandalism in progress. Those caught can be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, $1,000 or both. Each removed or ruined sign is a separate violation.
(Note: Again, this story comes from Washington State, so the law may be different in Illinois; however, the spirit of the law is the same: ‘Don’t get caught doing this stuff if you’re broke, wanted and/or averse to small spaces’).
Unfortunately, judging by all of the accounts from around the country I’ve read that don’t end in arrests, I’d have to hesitantly conclude that this, alas, is a problem that’s most likely impossible to really prevent – a reality that the campaigns themselves need to confront.