Signs of the Times – Or at Least Election Season
The evolving seasons bring with them certain emblematic changes we all look for. In Autumn, it’s green leaves transforming to colors of gold, red, and orange, the appearance of pumpkin spiced everything, and…election signs.
It seems you can’t go anywhere in October and November without spotting campaign signs, and generally in bunches. This is especially evident in presidential election years. So how can local governments manage the plethora of visual distractions that come with election season?
Signs in Court
For decades, municipalities attempted to restrict the posting of political or campaign signs by simply outlawing them or by regulating the appearance or language included on them. But as local governments enacted laws that attempted to regulate the content of the signs, First Amendment rights came into question. And that got the attention of the United States Supreme Court.
In Reed v. Town of Gilbert, the Supreme Court “clarified when municipalities may impose content-based restrictions on signage. The case also clarified the level of constitutional scrutiny that should be applied to content-based restrictions on speech.”
Avoiding Election Litter
According to a paper issued by the International Municipal Lawyers Association, the safest path for municipalities to follow when legislating campaign signs is to remain “content-neutral.” Enacting restrictions based on “time, place and manner” focuses on restricting the size or placement of signs on public or private property without reference to the sign’s content.
Useful examples from the eCode360® Library
If your community is interested in legislating to regulate political/campaign signs, some useful examples can be found in our eCode360 Library, including:
Village of Sleepy Hollow, NY – Political Signs
Borough of Lindenwold, NJ (Camden) – Zoning Amendment
Updating municipal codes is vitally important
As local governments continue to adjust and transform digitally to the ever-shifting needs of the COVID-19 era, keeping municipal codes updated has become more essential than ever. It’s important to sustain orderly and accessible knowledge of the most current regulations and resolutions in a timely manner.
We encourage our clients to submit code updates as soon as possible to make sure constituents and local government officials are referencing and working with the most up-to-date resources at all times. Clients can send legislation to [email protected].
Best practices for managing your codification budget
Many of our client communities find it helpful to be on a code update schedule to help manage their budgets throughout the year. Our Client Care Advocates can work with you and explain the options and benefits of scheduled code updates. Give them a call at 800.836.8834 or send an email to [email protected]. They’d be happy to help or answer any other codification questions you might have.
SIGN WARS: The First Amendment and Political Signs (IMLA)
Reed v. Town of Gilbert (Wikipedia)
Time, Place and Manner Restrictions (Middle Tennessee State University)
Content Neutral (Middle Tennessee State University)
Municipal Control of Signs (NYS Division of Local Government Services)
Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign (General Code blog)