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Sign theft begins as campaign heats up

David Adlerstein
The Apalachicola Times

It is not unusual for candidates’ signs to be stolen, or wrongly placed on public property, during a highly energized presidential election year.

But it’s started early in robust fashion this time.

A Biden 2020 sign stands on state-owned property on St. George Island, apparently vandalized.

The county’s Democratic Party has reported that as of July 21, 72 “Biden for President 2020" and "Panhandle for Biden 2020" signs that were distributed from Carrabelle west to Port St. Joe, including on St. George Island and along U.S. 98, had been swiped.

Carol Barfield, chair of the county’s Democratic Executive Committee, said the signs were placed by volunteers both at private homes and on public land between July 17 and 21.

“After the initial signs were stolen on St. George Island, Carrabelle and US 98, an additional 15 were redistributed to home owners and were also stolen,” said Barfield, noting the thefts were reported to Lt. Ryan Sandoval of the Franklin County sheriff’s office.

“Any information regarding the names of the thieves should be reported to him,” said Barfield, noting the total loss is over $500.

There also have been reports of signs that tout the Republicans’ Trump/Pence ticket having been stolen.

“Each year we get calls from different candidates that their signs are missing,” said Supervisor of Elections Heather Riley, who is not affiliated with either party and who is unopposed in her bid for another four-year term.

“It’s normal each election to be getting calls about signs being stolen or vandalized,” she said.

Riley said such thievery or vandalism is a civil matter, and should be reported to law enforcement. “The election office is not the candidate police,” she said.

In the event someone believes a specific candidate or campaign is behind the theft or vandalism, a complaint can be made to Maria Matthews, director of the Division of Elections in the Florida Department of State office; or to the Florida Commission on Ethics.

On Tuesday, the Florida Department of Transportation issued a press release as a reminder that state law, specifically Section 479.11(8) of the Florida Statutes, prohibits political signs on state right of way.

It reads that no signs “shall be erected, used, operated, or maintained” on the right of way of any state highway.

“The roadway right of way includes the roadway surface, concrete or grassy median, intersections, entrance and exit ramps, and a strip of land, usually bordering either side of the road, which is reserved for shoulders, drainage ditches, sidewalks, traffic signs/signals, fencing, electrical traffic signal control boxes, utility lines and future road expansion,” reads the release.

“Improperly located signs on state right of way pose a traffic safety hazard that can distract motorists or block their view, endanger the safety of individuals who are erecting signs along busy highways and present obstacles to crews who maintain roadways,” the release concludes.