Remember, candidate signs are private property … unlawful removal of or damage to any sign is a punishable crime

With the General Election just around the corner, citizens can rest assured they will continue to see more and more candidate signs scattered about as November edges closer. 

And as with the competitive nature of politics, many candidates experience a kind of turf war when it comes to political signage for their campaign. 

For the most part, political signs are to be put out within a certain window before the election and are supposed to be removed in an allotted number of days following an election, depending on local ordinances. In most cases, it is 30-60 days before an election with removal 5-15 days after.  

There are little other state regulations on signage, save for the permission needed from private landowners should a candidate wish to put a sign on their property.

According to an officer with the Okemah Police Department, who wished to withhold his name, if the signs are put in a state or highway right-of-way, the Department of Transportation can remove or move any signs without consent.  

There are no ordinances specific to candidate signage in the City of Okemah, according to City Clerk Relena Haddox. However, that means, at the point the signs are put out, they are considered private property and fall under the same laws as other signage. 

The removal or defacing of any political signs is considered a misdemeanor crime — likely theft or petty larceny if the sign is removed and taken or vandalism if the sign is damaged. 

Jan Preslar, general counsel for the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, said the commission does not have governing laws pertaining to the unlawful removal, theft or vandalism of political and/or candidate signs. 

“We do not oversee signage and do not have laws that govern that,” she said. “Usually, municipalities have ordinances specific to campaign signs or they would fall under other private property laws.”

In the City of Okemah, candidates can place signs on private property with landowners consent and public property, unless it is property specifically forbidden.

The Washington Post reported earlier in June, just prior to the Primary Election, that Oklahoma congressional candidate Tom Guild was caught on camera removing at least three signs of his opponents. 

Other than the embarrassment and loss of trust from his supporters, Guild faced little punishment, though he did not win the Democratic nomination. He publicly apologized, the Post reported, but no charges were filed in the matter. 

Given the value of most political signage, the theft of a candidate sign would fall under petty larceny, which is a misdemeanor crime that could entail up to a $500 fine or jail time. 

If the sign is not removed, but only damaged or defaced, the perpetrator could be looking at a misdemeanor vandalism crime, also punishable by fine or possible jail time.

By Josh Allen, ONL Staff Reporter

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