For many individuals, placing a political sign on the lawn is the most personal declaration of political affiliation they are likely to make. Like much political discourse, opinions about political signs are mixed: some people see them as a personal way of participating in the political process, while others see them as an eyesore.
At the ACLU, we believe that democracy depends on the free exchange of ideas about candidates and issues, and so we have brought First Amendment challenges to restrictions on political speech, especially when the restriction burdens the ability of individuals without much money to spend to have a voice.
Earlier this week, we were contacted by a number of people from Topsham, who were angry that political signs had been taken off their lawns by town officials. Topsham claimed that they only intended to remove signs from the public right of way, because a local ordinance prohibits placement of political signs on public land more than 30 days before a general election. The homeowners, though, told us that the signs were not on public land at all; they were right in front of their houses, on their own private lawns.
Town officials should not go onto people's private property to remove political signs. At a minimum, if homeowners do have the wrong kind of sign in the wrong place at the wrong time, the government ought to simply let them know so that the homeowners can fix it or re-positions it themselves.
But the bigger issue is whether local governments should be telling people where to put political signs at all, or when they are allowed to do so. Participatory democracy ought to be a year-round activity, and if a person wants to comment on a politician or a political candidate 31 days before an election, the First Amendment gives them the right to do so.
You can learn more about the issue from the media coverage: Topsham town manager orders removal of political signs; Topsham draws criticism after pulling political signs.