Like any other organization, political campaigns need to market themselves to the people who will buy their product: voters. One way that candidates can market themselves to voters is with yard signs. However, there are certain parts of Delaware where it’s unlawful to post political signs, mostly because of safety reasons. If you play it smart and follow the instructions about where and under what circumstances you may place a sign in Delaware, voters will see your signs every day. If you don’t follow the rules, well, the Department of Transportation in Delaware will remove it and you will pay a fine. Also, you will also pay even more money to get your sign back.
Delaware Yard Sign Regulations
The Delaware Department of Transportation is enforcing laws designed to keep the state’s rights of way clear from illegal and dangerous signs. The places where signs are forbidden in Delaware are called the Clear Zone, and if you place a sign there, it will be removed by DelDOT staff. Exemptions are signs posted during a period of 30 days before and 30 days after an election, in a district in which an election is held.
Not only will your sign be removed from the Clear Zone if it is not posted within the boundaries of your district and within the regulated timeframe, sign owners must pay a fine of $25 per sign in violation and a recovery fee of $15 per sign to get your signs back. Confiscated signs are disposed after 30 days, and the fines still apply.
Signs on private property, on the other hand, are a different matter from a legal perspective. For obvious reasons, DelDOT recommends that you get the property owner’s permission to post your sign on their property. Signs on private property do not have the time or location restrictions that signs do in the Clear Zone. Supporters can post signs in their yards more than 30 days in advance of the election and if there is a highly visible spot just outside the district, you can post it there just the same so long as it’s on private property.
On Election Day, your campaign will want to post signs at polling places to increase your campaigns visibility in addition to canvassers, phone bankers, and volunteers at the polls. The Delaware Department of Transportation recommends that you get permission to those your signs at the polling place beforehand. Also, be sure to make arrangements for someone associated with the campaign to recover signs from polling places soon after the election to reduce clutter but also save for the next campaign. Otherwise, you may find that someone else has taken care of the signs for you!
In addition, your campaign yard signs should not obscure signs that tell the name of the building where they are posted, they should not obscure signs that direct traffic or any signs put up by an Election Official that mark parking places or direct voters to polling place entrances.
Delaware is one of the few states that explicitly protects the rights of homeowners and condominium owners to display signs. In 2007 the state Legislature amended existing legislation to protect property owners’ right to fly flags and display political signs. The revised statute (25 Delaware Code Sec. 81-320) says that condominium residents or homeowners cannot be prohibited from displaying a U.S. flag up to 3 feet by 5 feet, and that any rule regarding the flag’s display must be consistent with federal law. Unless addressed in the original property declaration, no rule may ban political signs for candidates or ballot questions, but a homeowner’s association can restrict the time, place, size, number, or manner or the displays.
Local Yard Sign Regulations
Municipalities, homeowners associations, condo association, etc. may have laws, ordinances, rules, regulations, covenants or deed restrictions that cover political signs during campaigns. For example, an entity may limit signs to four weeks before Election Day, Election Day and the day after Election Day. In New Castle County for example, there are restrictions regarding the maximum size of the sign. In City of Wilmington the placement of signage is prohibited anywhere within the public right of way. This includes streets, sidewalks, traffic medians and on any otherwise within the right of way. The Departments of Licenses and Inspections and Public Works has the authority to simply remove the offending signs and dispose of them in Wilmington. Be sure to check with the local governments in your district to ensure that you are following all relevant sign ordinances.
Following yard sign regulations may sound like a minor issue, if you don’t follow the rules, candidates and campaigns can be fined and signs may be removed and destroyed. In summary, always ask owners before putting campaign signs on their property. Remember that candidates do not have a right to put signs on private property without the owner’s permission. Don’t forget to remove signs promptly after an election. At polling places, remove signs after the polls close on Election Night and clean up trash.