Every election season the courts ready themselves for another round of litigation involving campaign signs. Municipalities have taken many different positions regarding such election signs and there is still no bright-line test to follow when drafting a relevant ordinance.
Randal Morrison has written an article in the July/August 2008 issue of the Municipal Lawyer that provides an excellent overview of the outstanding issues in the field. Some of the highlights of the law are as follows:
1. Laws banning all elections signs have consistently been declared unconstitutional.
2. Banning signs posted on public property are allowed, but not bans on "holding" signs on public property (people can hold elections signs on public property but can be stopped from sticking signs on telephone polls, building walls, in the grass, etc.).
3. A city cannot favor commercial signs over campaign signs, so wherever commercial signs are allowed, election signs must also be allowed.
4. Time, place and manner of temporary signs (not just election signs) have been generally upheld by most courts. Time (i.e., duration) is the issue that has been most difficult for courts; however, the cases that do uphold time restrictions are those where a municipality's regulations are content neutral.
5. Time limitations that involve how long before or how long after an election a sign may be allowed have generally been found to be unconstitutional. Where the courts have upheld some content-neutral ordinances that limit all temporary signs to a specific length of time, the courts strike down more specific ordinances governing how close to an election the sign is allowed.
6. Ordinances that impose special permits, fees or bond requirements for posting election signs are always found to be unconstitutional.
For more information, please refer to Mr. Morrison's article "Regulating Election Signs" in this month's Municipal Lawyer.