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Love or hate them

Political yard signs began appearing in Johnson County as early as February of this year and with the state primary and county general election now just weeks away, the local landscape is now inundated with signs soliciting votes, but Tennessee law makes it illegal to deface or remove them. Photo by Jill Penley

By Jill Penley

Freelance Writer

State law prohibits stealing election signs.

Political yard signs began appearing in Johnson County as early as February of this year and with the state primary and county general now just weeks away, the local landscape is now inundated with signs soliciting votes.
While their effectiveness continues to be debated, political candidates who choose to purchase and erect campaign signs can attest, as with any campaign materials, there is a steep out-of-pocket cost involved so when campaign signs are defaced or stolen, it leaves the candidate and his or her supporters seething.
What people may not realize is that stealing a campaign sign, or tampering with a sign, is a crime. The offender may be charged with theft, damage to property and trespassing.
Johnson County Administrator of Elections Cheri Lipford and Deputy Administrator Molly Bunting provide an information packet to each candidate as they pick up paperwork to run for office, which includes election requirements and laws such as campaign finance reports, the Hatch Act, and the disclaimer law. “The candidates then sign a form confirming their receipt of the candidate information packet,” said Lipford.
Rumors and misconceptions are rampant regarding state laws governing elections. Some of the most prevalent ones involve, not only defacing or stealing political signs but where the political advertisement can be placed, when and who is responsible for removal after the conclusion of the election and the requirement of a “disclaimer” on political advertising.
Per state law, Tennessee Code Annotated Section 2-19-144, “it is unlawful for any person to place or attach any type of show-card, poster, or advertising material or device, including election campaign literature, on any kind of poles, towers, or fixtures of any public utility company, whether privately or publicly owned or as defined in § 65-4-101, unless legally authorized to do so.”
State law also dictates the proper removal of campaign advertising by stating “after the conclusion of a primary, general, or special election, candidates in such election shall be responsible for the removal
of any signs, posters, or placards advocating their candidacy, which have been placed on highway rights-of-way or other publicly owned property. The removal of such materials shall be accomplished within a reasonable period of time following the election, not to exceed three (3) weeks.”
Perhaps the most misunderstood election law involves the requirement of a visible disclaimer on political advertising advising who paid for that particular advertisement. State law in Tennessee Code Annotated states that “whenever any person makes an expenditure for the purpose of financing a communication that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate, as defined by (state law) or that solicits any contribution, through any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, outdoor advertising facility, poster, yard sign, direct mailing or any other form of general public political advertising, a disclaimer meeting the requirements of (state law) shall appear and be presented in a clear and conspicuous manner to give the reader, observer or listener adequate notice of the identity of persons who paid for and, where required, who authorized the communication.”
State law, however, provides an exemption for items such as bumper stickers, pins, buttons, pens, novelties, and similar small items on which the disclaimer cannot be conveniently printed.
If a sign or other communication is paid for by someone other than the candidate or their official political committee but is authorized by the candidate, the disclaimer must list the name of the individual or the candidate authorized group that paid for the ad as well as the fact it. Subsequently, if an individual or group purchases a sign or other campaign materials that are made on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate and is not authorized by the candidate, the disclaimer on that material must include the identity of who purchased it as well as state that it has not been approved by the candidate.