A Sensible Solution To So Many Signs

Voters are not the only Westporters turned off by political signs.

Candidates are too.

In fact, they dislike them so much — the expense, the putting-up-and-taking-down, the “arms race” feeling they engender and the animus they create — that one local politician proposes a solution:

Get rid of them entirely.

The idea comes from an RTM candidate. He (or she) agreed not to be named, because the goal here is sanity and a less visually polluted streetscape, not self-promotion.

(Photo/David Meth)

But here is his (or her) plan:

In the next election cycle, give candidates the option to donate the money they’d otherwise spend on signs to a fund that would create a website. The site would include pertinent information about all candidates who participate, with a link to their own personal web pages.

There would be plenty of publicity, so voters would know which candidates are voluntarily forgoing yard signs, in favor of the website. Each candidate’s financial contribution would be posted on the site.

Each candidate would design their own page. They could write or post as much information as they’d like, including videos.

In addition, each RTM district could hold candidates debates — perhaps at the library. They’d be videotaped, and posted on the website too.

Part of the funds used for signs could instead help rent commercial space downtown. (There’s no shortage of empty stores!) Candidates could have “office hours,” when voters would drop in and ask questions.

Parents could bring their children, to learn about the political process. (After which, they’d all go shopping downtown.)

The RTM candidate who suggests this has his (or her) own website. But he (or she) has to walk door to door, and post on social media, to let voters know about it. (Mailing out flyers is prohibitive.)

“I’ve been chased by people and bitten by 3 dogs, among other things,” the candidate says.

“And I can’t blame homeowners. I don’t like it when people come to my door either.

“An opt-in, robust central information repository, and ‘office hours’ for the public to talk to each candidate, just makes more sense to me.”

34 responses to “A Sensible Solution To So Many Signs

  1. YES!!!

  2. Excellent idea.

  3. Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

    Fantastic idea! I’m going to suggest this for our town and county elections. It should go viral and become a National idea. Think of the paper that would be saved and the space in land fills. ( My guess may be wrong that most are not recycled.)

  4. 👍👍👍👍👍

  5. Mary Ruggiero

    Why not just limit the number of signs to a specific amount for eAch candidate? Most of the other suggestions should be part of the campaigns anyway, except possibly the office downtown. Don’t candidates have mini town halls?

  6. Lori Winthrop Dockser

    Love it!

  7. Gerald F. Romano, Jr.

    It sounds like a good idea, but:
    If the person (RTM candidate) who is suggesting this idea is afraid to be known it makes me think that person is not 100% committed.
    Just like myself and others who make comments must sign their name to it.
    And that Dan is breaking his own rule…. “commenters must fill out their real full names, and provide their real email address” (for all to see)
    O – yes there is our First Amendment
    these are just my thoughts
    Gerald F. Romano, Jr.

    • Gerald, I am not “breaking my own rule.” This is a blog post, not a comment on a story. The RTM candidate did not use his or her own name because the candidate wanted the story to be about the suggestion, not him or herself. The election is going on right now, and the candidate did not want to be seen as self-promoting.

      • Still disappointing — if understandable — that the person chose anonymity, because someone, or some small group, will have to commit hours … and hours … and hours … AND YEARS to making something like this happen, and stick (as Ms Herman notes below). Call me cynical, but I think this is pie in the sky.

  8. Bobbie Herman

    At one time there was a “gentleman’s agreement” between both parties that there would be no signs. Then one candidate decided to invoke the First Amendment and that ended that. Has anyone ever decided on a candidate or changed their vote because of a Sign?

  9. David J. Loffredo

    For a town so proud of itself for banning plastic grocery bags, banning these signs altogether (why limit it to political signs?) seems like a no brainer.

    According to the Pew Research Center, 87% of American adults have access to the internet. It’s probably closer to 100% in Fairfield County.

    Signs create AWARENESS, but you learn absolutely nothing from them. You know how I’ve LEARNED about the candidates positions? This blog, a barrage of emails (which quite frankly I don’t mind and can turn them off when I do), and Facebook groups. Oh and the candidates that knocked on my door.

    So please let’s do something, the signs are a waste of resources, they’re ugly, and our drivers could benefit from one fewer distraction.

  10. I support banning all lawn signs even if it is a vote for COSMO!

  11. Luisa Francoeur

    What an inspired idea. The signs are like invasive weeds – every year there are more and more. And after the recent bad weather, the signs are strewn all over the place. Also, I wonder if all those signs will be collected after today.

  12. I don’t mind the signs. They are a constant reminder that election season is here. We have the right to vote, or not. The people who are running are mostly proud of the fact that they are running. Seeing names on signs has never persuaded me one way or the other to vote for someone but I enjoy the different choices of designs. I love Jennifer Johnson’s purple and yellow color choices. And John Suggs’ cardinal red background with white lettering – very classy, just like John. I sort of miss seeing all the signs after the election. For the most part, the dominant colors toward election day are brown and gray and the signs add a bit of color to the landscape. I am very grateful that we don’t have huge billboards. I grew up in Houston, Texas and we had huge ugly billboards with names on them like George Bush. Imagine how upsetting that was to this Texas liberal.

  13. Admirable idea – as one who has run for local office twice, I can tell you the need to put up signs is just as much driven by the feeling that “everyone else is putting them up, so you need to as well” – but here’s the thing:

    1. you cannot ban campaign signs
    2. you can only hope for a gentlemen’s agreement (most likely involving the political parties in Town)
    3. as soon as one candidate (perhaps non-affiliated) dishonors the agreement and puts up signs, others will feel the need to follow

    I still think it’s worth pursuing, perhaps if it’s just returning to the gentlemen’s agreement to keep the campaign signs limited to a window of time, perhaps even starting Oct 1st

  14. Michael Calise

    It’s all about free speech. Sometimes it’s invasive or even disturbing but its always a wonderful opportunity to speak up and be heard and occasionally inspire a mind changing discussion without fear of retribution by some greater authority

  15. Political signs = freedom of political speech.
    You have freedom of guns, so why not freedom of signs.

  16. Lawn signs do not encourage or stimulate free speech. What do we know about any of the candidates as a result of lawn signs? The proliferation of signs is just a matter of keeping up with the Jones’s. If a candidate’s competitors have signs, that candidate must have signs too – if for nothing else than to tell the world he/she exists.

    The idea of an alternative to the blight that descends on Westport every election cycle is commendable and we should encourage every effort to find better and different ways to inform the public about candidates. The LWV does an excellent job but more is needed to satisfy candidates’ craving to communicate. Additionally a program that shames those whose signs pollute the area, or who do not pick up their signs immediately after election day could help bring some sense to an out-of-control situation

    • Michael, when I saw Jennifer Johnson’s sign, it acted as a reminder of my meeting her a few years back. The sign was a catalyst for me to go to the Internet as soon as I got home, look her up, and then read her positions. So I was grateful that she had a sign and sometimes signs (as in Jennifer’s case) serve as a first-level reminder to investigate further.

  17. Great idea, except for the “optional” part. As soon as one candidate violates the agreement and puts up signs while still on the website (and you know it will happen) everyone will revert to the signs, afraid of the other getting a leg up. Most have their own websites anyway and there are “non-partisan” sites as well that cover candidate positions already. You can’t ban the signs as they are protected as free speech. As I previously suggested it is the proliferation of signs and the “one-upsmanship” of the fight for the most signs and position per corner that creates the litter, aesthetic and safety issues. Why not limit the signs to one per candidate or ticket within a radius restriction of, for example, 3,000 ft. This preserves the positive intent and usefulness of the signs but mitigates the negatives associated with them. There should also be a time period prescribed from post election day for the removal of the signs. Violations of either would result in fees of an amount high enough to motivate adherence. Anyone willing to sign a petition to the RTM?

  18. Audrey Hertzel

    Would like to see the invasive robo calls discontinued. I received 4 from the same politician… I’d block the number and it would call from another. It cost that politician my vote!

  19. In the case Reed et al. v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, et al., (No. 13-502, June 18, 2015), the United States Supreme Court ruled 9-0, regulations that categorize signs based on the type of information they convey (e.g. temporary, political and ideological) and then apply different standards to each category are content-based regulations of speech and are not allowed under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

    • Phillip Perri

      That’s why a uniform limitation-based regulation across all the category of “lawn” signs (be it for lawn service, computer service or political candidacy) would pass muster in this regard.

  20. How about one step further? Setting up a web site is not an economic drain. The remaining funds should go to a local charity. As an example Homes With Hope would be an excellent option, or the United Way, etc.

    FYI, I have suggested this for years to individual candidates (as I was pointing out the lunacy of yard signs to sway anyone’s vote, it’s waste of money, resources like trees (plastic and real 🙂 ), and metal. The candidates sometimes thought it was a good suggestion, but could not understand the concept of “doing the right thing” by thinking outside of the box and campaigning a different way and benefiting our community.

    To Rozanne: Yes we know today is election day, even if one HAS been living under a rock (banner ads on internet browsers, TV ads, and direct mail flyers (another incredibly wasteful method of getting a message out).

    BTW, it was really hard to vote for the Save Westport Now folks who opted to robo call people. It really is another low form of marketing and does NOTHING to change anyone’s position or vote. If anything it annoys to think about an alternative candidate. The only ones who say it works are the vendors marketing robo calling. 🙂

  21. I just got robo called a moment ago, reminding me to vote today and that the polls would be closing shortly. It really is insulting that the political parties and candidates think we are so unintelligent and uniformed that we don’t know there’s an election? Maybe we need more signs on each corner because we missed the bazillion that are already posted around town.

    • Well, just suck it up buttercup! Is that rude? Sorry if it is.
      Tomorrow the signs and robo calls end.

      P.S. Those candidates who do not remove their signs tomorrow are rude…
      Hope you haven’t voted for them today.

  22. I have been elected to the RTM four times, most recently thie Election Day, and have never used lawn signs. (And I believe therer are other candidates, both successful and unsuccessful, who also have not used lawn signs.) So if I donate what I spend on lawn signs ($0.00) to the website, would I still be allowed to participate in it? Would I be perceived to be at a disadvantage because I donated less to the website than other candidates? Are we starting a new arms race to see which candidates can contribute the most to the new websites and/or have the slickest, most professional looking web sites? I bemoan the fact that many people do not know what the RTM is, what it does, and how it operates and think debates for the RTM candidates are a great idea, but they should be handled just like the debates for the other Town offices.

    Peter Gold
    Member, RTM District 5

  23. Straight-up unconstitutional. A bad idea that quashes the right of citizens to speak. A non-starter. Wrong in every way.

  24. Christine Meiers Schatz

    This was my idea and I stand 100% behind it. I even included it in an email to other candidates and voters prior to the election. Dan published my suggestion before polls closed, and neither of us wanted it to be construed as me using 06880 as an advertisement for myself. I’ve responded to some of your concerns below:

    My proposal would be different from a gentlemen’s agreement limiting signs because there would be consequences for violating it. Some of the money donated by those opting in would be used to buy simple, black and white signs that (1) list the central website URL and (2) explain that the candidates with signs chose to buy expensive cardboard with their name on it rather than putting funds towards our town and the betterment of the political process. Candidates not opting in would also be excluded from the central website.

    Unfortunately, most of the components of my suggestion don’t already exist:
    • There’s no central information repository listing all candidate websites and only some of the candidates had websites.
    • There were only true debates for the selectman candidates, P&Z candidates, and Board of Finance candidates, and recordings of these debates weren’t archived in one central location for the public to view. We should have debates for all offices that are recorded and available on a central website, where voters can view them at their convenience.
    • There were no open, rotating, kid-friendly “office hours” where all of the candidates for one type of office would be present to meet voters and answer questions.
    • The League of Women Voters does an incredible service to this town by putting out their voter guides. But candidate contributions have short word limits that wouldn’t exist on a webpage.

    The change I propose would not take countless hours or years to organize. Each candidate would either (1) be provided with a webpage that the candidate would populate with pictures or text or (2) a candidate could choose to create a separate website and have the link to that website on the homepage of the central website. Webpages aren’t hard to make but, to the extent that a candidate is having difficulty, perhaps we could find a group of high school volunteers to help. That could make this part of the campaign process a good learning experience for both the students and the candidates.

    As one commenter noted, this could replace the signs arms race with a website arms race. And that would be great! Websites can provide more useful, substantive information than road signs without the environmental waste or the payment of thousands of campaign dollars to non-Westport businesses.

    If a candidate opts in and donates nothing when they could donate at least something, that wouldn’t look great. But the beauty of this type of system would be that if you truly have no funds to contribute you could still create a great webpage and be on a more equal playing field with the other candidates.

    Banning political signs, limiting the number of signs, or limiting the time period for signs would likely be deemed unconstitutional.

    If what I propose was administrated by the Town of Westport itself, there is some possibility that it could be deemed unconstitutional as well. I would suggest having or a separate entity – something like the League of Women Voters or a new entity – in charge of handling everything. This would likely pass constitutional muster.

    • If you have free speech you can’t dictate how people do it.

      • Christine Meiers Schatz

        Thank you for your interest Ms. Hunter! As I’m sure you’re aware, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution concerns laws abridging the freedom of speech. There is no law or ordinance involved here. There is no requirement that any candidate opt in to what I proposed. And there is no government entity involved. So I’m not sure what you are getting at – maybe you could explain further?

        • Websites? Of course! That’s how candidates gather donations.
          So let there be signs, too.
          (My country’s constitution was written in modern times.)

  25. Christine Meiers Schatz

    I couldn’t agree more that, of course, there should be websites! But did you know that if you count RTM candidates, over half of the individuals campaigning for office did not have one? Again, there would be no law or ordinance against signs in what I proposed. One can opt in and choose to have the money that would have otherwise spent on signs go towards the town and a system that would provide more information for voters.