Political signs are
protected on private land
Question: What are the legal requirements for political signs on private property? Is there a time limit before the election that the signs can be displayed? Is there a limit as to how many signs can be on one property? How long after the election must the signs be removed? Who can violations of the billboard sign law be reported to? I understand the answers are related to freedom of speech, but having 20 to 30 signs for the same candidate on one property seems to be a bit excessive. Does anyone really believe that having 25 signs, instead of two or three, will bring more votes?
Answer: This complaint pops up every election year, but the fact is: political signs are considered an expression of free speech protected under the First Amendment.
In years past, there was some confusion about whether the state or city could regulate or restrict the posting of political signs on private property.
We asked the city if it had any restrictions regarding campaign signs on private property and were referred to the state Attorney General's Office.
Although the various counties have all kinds of ordinances dealing with signs, they apparently are not getting involved in this issue because of a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling and a state attorney general's opinion.
The state had a law restricting the sign postings to 45 days before an election and 10 days following, but the state Supreme Court struck that down as unconstitutional in 1990. Although there were still attempts to restrict the proliferation of political signs in ensuing years, the Attorney General's Office in 1996 issued an opinion saying the law restricting the signs was "unenforceable and unconstitutional."
The Outdoor Circle, which was instrumental in getting the state's anti-billboard law passed decades ago, doesn't like the visual pollution. But "there's nothing we can do about it," because of the First Amendment, Executive Director Mary Steiner told Kokua Line.
That's the basic situation.
But state Chief Election Officer Dwayne Yoshina said there's a delicate balancing act performed in this arena, in terms of accommodating two rights -- the right to free speech and the right to vote in an environment free of "electioneering."
On election day, no campaigning is allowed within 200 yards of a polling place.
If there are signs on someone's property within that 200-yard radius on election day, Yoshina's staff will direct precinct officials to ask the homeowner -- "in the spirit of trying to make the polling place as sanitized as possible" -- to remove the signs.
"In most cases, the homeowners understand and they will remove the sign," he said.
His office also gets complaints about candidates posting signs on public fences. In those cases, "We've asked the candidates to remove them and, in a lot of cases, they do, because they understand the negative publicity and impacts of that."
Still, he acknowledged, because there is this "tension" between the two rights, "We sort of step lightly around this."
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