Election season is heating up, and in the privacy of their homes, voters will soon be inundated with mailings, phone calls and television campaign ads.
In the public eye, those traveling the highways and byways will find the sides of the roads dotted with various sizes and colors of signs promoting one candidate or another.
Whether the signs are appreciated by the different camps or maligned for fracturing the view, they serve a purpose for campaign hopefuls who must follow fairly limited signage guidelines, as laid out in Bluffton and Beaufort County regulations.
Town Councilman Ted Huffman used signs in his last campaign and wishes he had one that did more than promote candidates. “Yes, I used signs and I am using them this time around as well. I think name recognition is important for informing folks who is running,” he said.
“What I need is a magic sign that will steer people to vote on Election Day,” Huffman said. “There is no guarantee that more than 10 to 12 percent will turnout. It’s frustrating to assume that that’s all we’ll get. I would love to see a record turnout for the community we all love. It’s worth it. Bluffton Matters.”
For the record, Election Day is Nov. 3.
While the signs might not increase voter participation, it’s no magic that signs seem to multiply overnight once open season is declared for elections.
If over-zealous campaign managers stick signs in the wrong place or too far ahead of the election dates, code enforcement officers from Bluffton or the county may confiscate them, although they can be retrieved from both agencies if that happens.
There are size limitations, but the major difference between town and county regulations is when and for how long signs may be erected.
In Bluffton, candidates may post signs 60 days before the election and they must be removed within five days afterward; run-off candidates may keep their signs up until the final election. Permits are not required.
If candidates wish to post signs in the unincorporated parts of the county, they may be erected any time during the election year but must be removed within 48 hours of the election results.
“After the election is over, most candidates have done a great job in the past of collecting all of their signage; however they do miss a few of them at times,” said Sgt. James Carmany of the Bluffton Police Department. “If a candidate does not collect or make an effort of collecting their signage, we would first educate them on the town ordinance and recommend they pick up their signs.”
In the event they do not retrieve their property, candidates could face a fine of $1,092.50, Carmany said.
Should partisan politics heat to the point that over-zealous citizens decide to confiscate the opponent’s signs themselves or “redecorate” them, a word of caution is advised.
Carmany said removing an opposing candidate’s signs results in a charge of petty theft under the state statute, and a fine of $2,130, with possible jail time of up to 30 days.
Damaging the signs would net the offender a fine of $1,092.50, a charge of malicious injury to property and a possible 30-day jail sentence.
The Bluffton public locations allowed are the landscaped corners of Bluffton’s four-way stop at Bruin and May River Roads; in the Buckwalter Place Boulevard median beyond the entry sign; and the northwest corner of the intersection at May River Road and Buckwalter Parkway.
Signs posted within the unincorporated parts of Beaufort County may not be placed within 10 feet of highway rights-of-way.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.