Submitted by Mike Farley.
Whether people liked or disliked the results of the recent election, we can all celebrate the fact that for the first time in over six months our public right-of-ways are finally free of the unsightly litter of cheap cardboard and plastic campaign signs. The annual (for each of the past three years) trashing up of our streets is ultimately pointless and only serves to highlight the way in which our politicians misuse their offices to grant themselves special privileges.
Over the past number of years, I have freely donated hundreds of hours of my time in an effort to make the City of DuPont live up to its designation as a “Tree City USA,” serving on the Tree Board, managing the nursery where we grew replacement street trees at a fraction of the cost of buying them, and doing all of the design, plant selection and purchasing processes for plantings along the length of Center Drive. This year I stopped doing any of that volunteer work since the reward of a job well-done was again replaced by a feeling of futility.
Earlier on, I had expressed my feelings to both the [former] Mayor of DuPont and to each member of the City Council. Their contempt was shown in a subsequent revision of the City’s sign code which not only continued to grant themselves the sole privilege of posting signs without special permits, but further liberalized the rules by allowing the signs to be placed on the right-of-way earlier in the year and adding the stipulation: “There is no maximum number of temporary political signs.”
When I spoke to the former Mayor in person, he said that the City wasn’t able to ban such signs from the public right-of-way because a Supreme Court decision classified them as “free speech.” It didn’t take much checking to see how specious that excuse was.
- The City does prohibit the posting of political signs (and all others) from the median strips. If free speech were the issue, there wouldn’t be any distinction between the median strips and the right-of-ways.
- The State of Washington prohibits the posting of political signs along all numbered highways in the State.
- The complete lack of political signs posted along I-5 would strongly suggest that it’s also illegal to post them there.
- A state law in Texas specifically says that “A city has the authority to regulate and prohibit signs in its rights-of-way, including political signs.”
- The reference used by Texas is a 2015 Supreme Court ruling that signs could not be restricted based on their “communicative content” (for Politican A or against Politician B, for example), but that municipalities could “forbid postings on public property so long as it does so in an evenhanded, content-neutral manner.”
In other words, the only excuse offered for allowing political signs on the City’s right-of-way was a falsehood.
My other contention is that the annual profusion of signs is pointless. None of them have any of the content that would contribute to “an informed electorate” making a decision. Simply repeating a candidate’s name (perhaps adding the office they’re running for and their party affiliation) would be excusable in a pre-literate society where voters could match the letters on signs with those on a ballot. Using the same tactic on U.S. citizens — with an official literacy rate of 99% of people over the age of 15 — is insulting.
The only argument I heard against this was that “it increases awareness of and interest in an upcoming election.” However, that doesn’t hold up when one looks at the turn out (or lack of) in elections. For an example, the 2019 race for Mayor and City Council positions in DuPont saw the public right-of-ways littered all summer and fall with the cheap, garish signs endlessly repeating a mere handful of names. In the election itself, fewer than 12% of eligible citizens turned in a ballot! While it certainly couldn’t be claimed the voters were unaware of the election, a case could be made that they’d become so sick of looking at those signs they didn’t want to vote for — and thereby encourage — any of the candidates.
And of course it isn’t just DuPont that becomes so unsightly during every election year. Steilacoom, Lakewood, and all other communities suffer from this visual blight as well.
So what am I advocating? That everyone who objects to this mis-use of public property write to their mayor and city council members. Demand that the property belonging to you — the public — is yours to enjoy and not their space for “tagging.”
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.