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Want to remove that pesky political sign along your road? Read this before you act

  • Political signs on the side of South Street in the South End of Concord on Wednesday, November 11, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Political signs on the side of South Street in the South End of Concord on Wednesday, November 11, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Most political signs, like those on the side of South Street, must be removed from public land by the second Friday following the election, which in this case will be Nov. 13. They can stay on private property forever, if the owners don’t mind.  GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Political signs are planted among the leaves along the side of South Street in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 11/12/2020 3:37:06 PM

The end of an endless presidential election season brings up the perennial question of what will happen to all the political signs that have filled the landscape. 

With that in mind, here’s a rundown of the purpose and rules behind all of those signs:

Q. Do political signs in yards actually work?

If they don’t, a lot of money is being wasted.

The cost of these signs depends on their type – coroplast? polycoated posterboard? polybag? – as well as the number of colors used, whether they include art, and the number of signs bought at one time. The cheapest and smallest signs cost around $2 each, plus another buck or so for the wire holder to push into the grass. Big signs can cost $20 apiece or more, not counting shipping.

Particularly in local races such as state representative, buying these signs is often the biggest single campaign cost.

People certainly think signs do influence the electorate, otherwise we wouldn’t see all the stories about folks complaining that their signs were stolen or vandalized. But I know of only one effort to scientifically study their effectiveness.

A paper published in the March 2016 edition of the research journal Electoral Studies discussed four randomized trials involving candidates for Congress, mayor and a county office in a few different states, and a campaign directed against a candidate. Signs were placed in some precincts and not in others, with different designs.

The conclusion was that on average, signs increased a candidate’s voting share by 1.7 percentage points. That’s not much but it’s not nothing: Plenty of elections are decided by less than 1.7 percentage points.

So yes, they do work. A little bit. Just not very efficiently.​​​​​​

I’ve never heard of a candidate for New Hampshire office who won without putting out any signs whatsoever. If you know of such a case, let me know at  dbrooks@cmonitor.com.

Q. Sometimes the signs seem to be everywhere. Are they really everywhere?

While campaign signs can legally be placed in an awful lot of places, there are limits.

On private land, as you’d expect, the owner’s permissions is necessary. The same goes on a lot of public land: You can’t stick your sign next to the front door of town hall unless the selectman say it’s okay, for example.

You also can’t put them on utility poles. In fact, you’re not supposed to attach anything to utility poles, despite what owners of lost pets think.

Rules are more complicated for land alongside roads, the most coveted real estate for eyeball-seeking campaigns.

New Hampshire Department of Transportation guidelines can be summarized like this: Signs can’t be placed on interstates or along on- and off-ramps, but they can go next to all state roads unless the signs are deemed to create a traffic hazard because they block the view of traffic or signals, or if they get in the way of maintenance work (usually mowing).

Signs removed by road crews are stored at the local public works garage or police department. If nobody gets them, they get tossed a week after the election.

Q: Speaking of removing signs, can I?

Probably not.

State law is clear: The only folks who can remove a sign are the campaigns that placed it, the owner of the property, law enforcement or highway crews.

Most candidates are required to remove all their political signs from public land by the second Friday following the election, which in this case will be Nov. 13. They can stay on private property forever, if the owners don’t mind. 

If a sign is still around on public land after the deadline, call your local police or road crew.

Q: Is there anything useful to do with these signs once electioneering is done, assuming the campaign doesn’t want them?

Not much that I’ve been able to figure out. If you can turn them inside out you can use them to advertise your next garage sale. If they’re plastic, they make passable snow sleds for kids on the neighborhood hill. But that’s about it.

One thing I can tell you: They make terrible Frisbees.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of the monthly Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.



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