Even for those who don’t pay much attention to current events, it’s impossible to not know campaign season is in full swing.
Campaign signs can be seen along all major roadways, in yards and on billboards across Haywood.
As in past presidential election years, sign thefts are a source of aggravation for both political parties.
In days when the two major political party members are at odds over most issues, Myrna Campbell, chairperson of the Haywood County Democratic Party, and Kay Miller, chairperson of the Haywood Republican Party, actually agree on one thing: Campaign sign thefts are a growing problem, and it seems to be worse this year than in the past.
“They are stealing the small signs as fast as we can put them up,” Campbell said.
Miller said people are stealing signs — even out of people’s yards.
“It’s just wrong. You are going onto someone else’s property,” Miller said.
Neither party chairperson is sure where the thievery originates, but both said they would hope none of those who regularly work with the party and election laws would be in the campaign-sign stealing business.
Chief Deputy Jeff Haynes with the Haywood County Sheriff’s office said sign theft is always an issue during election season.
“This is no different than in the past,” he said, noting officers will continue to follow up on any leads they get regarding sign theft or damage.
To date, the Sheriff’s Office has received one sign vandalism report and two sign larceny reports, with no arrests made.
Those filing reports should provide as much information as possible to improve the chances of making an arrest, Haynes said.
State law classifies the unlawful removal of signs as a Class III misdemeanor. The penalty can be up to 20 days in jail and a fine of $200.
In the scheme of things, Miller understands where spending valuable time on prosecuting sign thefts could be a low priority.
“What are they going to do unless they catch someone in the act,” she asked. “There are much bigger issues they are dealing with.”
Sign thefts on private property are definitely the most disturbing, though, both Miller and Campbell agree.
“It just takes it to a different level,” Campbell said. “I can see them picking up signs on right-of-way, but to take them from private yards is a whole different conversation.”
Miller said when individuals pick up signs from the Haywood Republican headquarters, they are given a sheet with the guidelines to follow when putting them out.
While stolen signs are an issue, Miller said it is not the major one facing the country.
“To me, it’s a bigger problem that people do not have a moral conscience to not steal other people’s property.”
It’s the Trump/Pence and Biden/Harris signs that seem to be the biggest target of theft. The problem has gotten so bad, Campbell said the party has decided it will be better to focus on larger barn signs that would be more difficult to target and remove.
“I heard a couple of remarks that Trump signs are being taken, too, but I don’t know of anybody who would do that,” Campbell said. “I do know those signs aren’t being taken at the same rate as Biden signs. We’ve gone through 300 Biden signs at our headquarters.”
Of that number, she suggests motorists would be hard-pressed to find even half of them still in place.
Two Canton aldermen both reported they had signs stolen from their front yards, Campbell said, noting that those signs were actually paid for by the individuals putting them up.
“The party absorbs the cost of putting signs in the right-of-ways,” Campbell said, “but if someone wants them for their yard, they pay $5.”
Miller said the Republican Party charges for signs they have to purchase, but gives out the other signs provided by those campaigning for various GOP offices.
In the scheme of things, Miller isn’t convinced political signs make much of a difference.
“I’ve never heard anyone saying they voted for someone based on a sign they saw,” she said. “Our research tells us 73% of the voters rely on the voter guides we put out, so that’s our big push.”
Another issue that’s cropped up involved placing campaign literature directly in a mail box, something that is prohibited under federal law.
Campbell said she received an email from an individual who found the GOP voter guide inside her box and was reporting it to the Clyde post office.
Still, unless a person is caught in the act, there’s little that can be done.
“Nobody is supposed to put anything in the mailbox,” Miller agreed, “but unless you see someone do it, you can jump to all sorts of conclusions. You don’t know what kind of tactics people are using.”
There is a different level of antagonism — and enthusiasm — during this election season, Campbell observed.
“I have not seen this much enthusiasm among Haywood Democrats since before 2012,” she said.