Signs of the season: Delaware lays out campaign sign rules

(File/WHYY)

(File/WHYY)

The leaves aren’t changing just yet, but the signs of fall are starting to appear in Delaware- campaign signs, that is.

If you’ve somehow managed to avoid any discussion or awareness that Delaware’s primary election is coming on September 13th, you’ll soon be forced to recognize that campaign season is in now in full swing.

Delaware law only allows political campaigns to place signs alongside the roadways 30 days before and 30 days after an election. “There are some specific rules, and those rules end up resulting in a lot of violations to different campaigns,” DelDOT’s Jim Westhoff said. “We’re trying to keep the clear zone clear for safety,” Westhoff said.

The “clear zone” ban means no signs are allowed in medians, islands at an intersection, or on utility poles. No signs can be closer than 10 feet from the edge of the pavement along state roads and highways.

In 2012, 3,800 illegally placed campaign signs were removed by DelDOT workers. “That’s a lot of work for our people,” Westhoff said. “It’s much easier for all of us if the campaigns try hard to keep the signs within the rules.”

Four years ago, the state issued 1,000 warnings and about 1,800 fines to candidates for not following DelDOT’s rules. Campaigns get one warning, but then must pay $25 for every illegally placed sign documented by DelDOT. That means candidates were fined about $45,000 for illegal signs in 2012. Campaigns also must pay a $15 fee if they want to retrieve a sign that’s been seized.

While DelDOT doesn’t respond to complaints of illegally placed signs, the agency does have an employee in each of Delaware’s three counties assigned to patrol for illegal signs. “[They travel] established routes on different days so that we can try to be fair and get all the roads that we can,” Westhoff said.

DelDOT encourages all campaigns to keep a map of where they’ve placed signs so they can more easily collect them following the November vote.

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