Visual pollution in political campaigns

Visual polution in political campaigns
It is another election year.

There will be a test on August 26, 2008 that will settle a number of local issues. There will be another test on November 4, 2008 that, for some, will be the “final exam” of their past performance in political office — for others it will deliver a message concerning their political future.

I always look forward to voting but what I don’t look forward to is the sea of haphazardly posted road signs touting me to vote for one political candidate or another. It is unsightly, trashes up our roadways and more importantly, it is illegal.

Unauthorized use of the public right of way is prohibited by Florida law. Illegal use of the right of way is a crime. Each day a violation continues is a separate offense. Section 337.406, Florida Statutes.

According to information that is available to candidates from the Florida Department of Transportation, each offense may result in a fine of up to $500 or imprisonment of up to 60 days or both. Local ordinances may impose additional fines.

I’ve talked to voter groups around the county over the years and a recurring source of complaints is the abundance and placement of political campaign signs. It seems that there is no limit to the persistence of some campaign supporters who feel compelled to “one up” their opponent with another, more visible sign.

For those who feel that their candidate benefits from a sign boasting their name, I say have a small sign legally placed in their yard — if their community association and applicable zoning laws allow it; many in St. Johns County don’t.

I made a trip to the Supervisor of Elections office to see what their experience has been.

In addition to several useful links posted on the Supervisor’s public website outlining the “do’s and don’ts” of political signs, I was provided with a complete packet of information that is provided to every candidate through the announcement and qualifying period. I must say it is very comprehensive.

The Supervisor’s office continues to receive complaints each election year concerning illegally placed campaign signs despite their best efforts to curb these annoying violations. I’ve heard it said that some candidates and their supporters must think that signs vote — rest assured, they don’t.

The visual pollution in political campaigns caused by illegally placed signs is more of a turn off for John Doe – average voter – than some candidates seem to realize; I know it is for me. Is it simply ego that causes those who aspire to public office to violate the city and county sign ordinances or the laws of the State of Florida? Surely they can’t plead “ignorance” based on the information I was provided today!

The checklist of documents candidates receive lists an entire section of sign ordinance information including a memo from the Florida Department of Transportation, a memo regarding Section 106.1435 F.S., a memo from the St. Johns County Code Enforcement program, a copy of the City of St. Augustine sign ordinance (with a map) as well as information concerning the Ponte Vedra Zoning District and City of St. Augustine Beach sign ordinance information.

From a letter from Kenneth M. Towcimak, Director of the Office of Right of Way in the Florida Department of Transportation that was provided to Historic City News for the purpose of this editorial, “Political campaign signs may not be placed in the right of way of any state or national highway (Chapter 479.118(8), F.S.)”. I think that’s pretty much self explanatory.

Let’s see who’s listening.

Photo credit: Historic City Media news photographer Kerry McGuire