The Camden Herald editorial — May 24, 2012
As elections approach, political signs begin sprouting at intersections, on lawns and along roads, endorsing candidates for office or arguing 'yes' or 'no' for ballot questions. There are laws in place defining where it is permissible to place signs, including roadsides within the state right-of-way, apparently regardless of what lies beyond that right-of-way.
A phone call to Maine Department of Transportation Right-of-Way Supervisor Robert Sinclair confirmed the rules.
“Political signs are allowed in the state right-of-way,” Sinclair said, adding there are varying distances for rights-of way, even on the same highway, throughout the state.
According to “2012 Candidates Guide, Running for Office in Maine,” signs may be erected “no sooner than six (6) weeks prior to an election, primary or referendum and must be removed no later than one (1) week following the date of the election, primary or referendum.” Prohibitions include mimicking traffic control devices (think stop sign) and blocking sight lines of traffic.
No attention is given to the issue of placing signs in the vicinity of a home or on private property, regardless of permission granted. One of the only references in the guide to private property reads: “Acceptable display would be those posters or signs affixed to their own stake or post and set in the ground well outside the traveled portion of the highway, or, with the owner’s consent and permission, attached to a building or dwelling, or displayed on vehicles or in the windows of business establishments, and in other like manner.”
Even that paragraph does not address placing signs within the right-of-way in front of people's homes or businesses.
Sometimes, a sign may be placed without permission of the landowner. Such was the case this weekend, when several political signs were placed within the state right-of-way abutting a large field in front of the home of a Courier Publications LLC staff member.
“We run into this a lot, when they don't ask landowner permission,” Sinclair said, adding it is an issue all over the state. “But legally, if they are in the right-of-way...”
He said landowners can measure sign placement from the center line of the road to determine if the sign is within the right-of-way.
"Say the right-of-way is 33-feet and the sign is 40-feet [from the center line]," Sinclair said, noting placing political signs on private property is prohibited, unless the landowner requests one. He added the candidate or a representative of the candidate should be contacted to remove any illegally-placed political sign.
We think these rules need to change, or common sense should be used more freely. People should not be allowed to place political signs without landowner permission, even within a state right-of-way. In the Courier Publications LLC staff member's particular case, the home is not highly visible from the road, but a driveway clearly is present. Signs placed on the property — with no other signs for at least a mile in either direction — implies the person who owns the property endorses said candidates — a statement to which Sinclair agreed. Due to the nature of the staff member's employment, it also could be assumed that by endorsing certain candidates, the staff member is politically biased. Were there harsh rules in place in regard to political stances, the staff member could conceivably be in jeopardy of reprimand despite not being at fault. Also in theory, a business owner posting political signs could potentially lose business from those who do not share the same views.
We are not implying political signs should not be varied and many; nor are we saying people do not have a right to free speech up to and including posting of political signs at their homes and businesses. However, those who choose not to make their political stances public should not have to be subject to volunteer whims.