Political littering

Published 6:55 pm Tuesday, May 7, 2019

A week ago, there were 26 people running for the Congressional seat previously held by Walter Jones Jr. before his death. It was a huge field of candidates, each of whom was vying for votes.

During any election season, one of the most common ways to get the attention of voters is through political signs — cheap pieces of plastic and metal that find their way into the most interesting of places. Yards, DOT right of ways, long stretches of back roads in the middle of nowhere — signs pop up like mushrooms during the campaign, but all too often, they’re slow to come down afterwards.

In 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law that regulates these signs, designating where they may be placed, how close to the road they should be, how big they can be and the penalties for unlawful removal of signs. It’s a class 3 misdemeanor if you take one from the soil in which it is planted.

There’s an interesting stipulation in the law. From 30 days before the beginning of one-stop early voting and up through the 10th day after the primary or Election Day, “persons may place signs in the right of way of the State highway system.”

Later in the law, the general statute says “signs must be placed in compliance with this subsection and be removed by the end of the period described in this subsection.” That is to say, 10 days after the election. For anyone keeping track, that’s this Friday.

Here’s where the law falls flat — it has no teeth. Sure, there are penalties for unlawful removal, but political candidates are not penalized for failure to remove their signs. But there’s an easy solution for this.

On the books in the State of North Carolina, we do have anti-littering laws (frequently ignored though they may be). Under these laws, intentional littering is a class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of between $250 and $1,000 and up to 24 hours of community service. Multiply that fine schedule by the number of political signs neglected on the side of the road, and the dollar figures add up quickly — plenty of incentive to clean up one’s mess.

But it honestly shouldn’t have to come to that. Candidates, do the responsible thing. Clean up after yourself.