Following campaign regulations is first and foremost a matter of ethics, but in additional to doing the right thing there are a political implications to understanding Illinois’ sign regulations and local sign ordinances. Illinois DOT disposes of road signs that are illegally distributed along the highway median, for example, and your campaign dollars invested in them along with it.
But it’s better that the DOT find your signs illegally placed than your opponent who could turn it into a campaign issue. Why should the voters trust you to be a part of government when you can’t follow the simplest laws of the land? Of course, you can turn this around and point out your opponents violations to the media.
Illinois Yard Sign Regulations
Most candidates learn the regulations about where you and can and cannot post signs on the state’s right of way quickly:
“Most candidates are aware of our policy. We don’t have trouble with too many people. Candidates usually know where to put their signs,” said Operations Engineer Keith Miley of the Illinois Department of Transportation office in Carbondale.
That said, if you are new to politics or need to make confirm that your opponent is following the letter of the law, for example, knowing the state’s rules can help. Also, when a campaign does violate Illinois Department of State, DOT staff will remove of your signs and dispose of them.
That could mean a significant loss to your campaign financially and in terms of time investment in purchasing and posting the signs.
On Election Day, the state’s regulations are equally clear. While the polls are open, no one can place political sign or fliers within 100 feet of a polling place. This protects the polling place as a neutral area, where people can vote their mind without worrying about political pressure from a political campaign. Unlike many other states, this rule extends to voters showing up to vote wearing clothing or other political paraphernalia like buttons or stickers that advocate for or opposes a given candidate or proposition.
Local Yard Sign Regulations
As you may already know, many cities and villages in Illinois only allowed homeowners to display political yard signs within a few weeks of an election day. If you displayed your sign too early or left a sign in your yard for too long following an election, you would have been breaking the law. Governor Pat Quinn, however, signed a law in 2011 barring municipalities from regulating when political signs can be displayed on residential property.
According to the Quinn administration, the new law, would bring Illinois into compliance with a 1994 U.S. Supreme Court ruling indicating that political signs are protected “free speech” under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. Under the new law, municipalities can still regulate the size and number of political signs, as long as any such restrictions are “content neutral” and “reasonable.”
Let’s take the city of Galena for an example.
The city of Galena in northwestern Illinois allowed properties to put in place one political sign beginning 60 days before and up to seven day after an election. Galena Zoning Administrator Nate Kieffer said the new ordinance was created because property owners and candidates wanted a standardized timeline to begin putting up the signs. “It’s so funny, it’s one of the only situations where somebody wants a rule on something. They just want to have something… that levels the playing field for everyone” said Kieffer.
Since 2011, local governments like Galena can no longer make or enforce such regulations limiting the time that private citizens can post yard signs advertising political campaigns.
The statewide law also makes it much simpler for candidates who are seeking office that crosses local government boundaries. State Senator Pamela Althoff, who cosponsored the legislation, said homeowners did not know when they could put signs up because of all the different local ordinances. This is a benefit to campaigns as well who can start putting signs in the hands of voters as soon as the campaign orders them.
Illinois’ campaign yard sign regulations are clear and even easier to follow at the local level since 2011 when the state prohibited cities and towns from limiting the amount of time that a private citizen could display a sign. Also keep in mind that according to the Illinois Department of Transportation, campaign signs are only allowed on the back slopes behind ditches along state roads. Signs are also prohibited in the median. In addition, the state of Illinois legally protects the polling place as an electioneering free zone on the Election Day.
Disclaimer: I’m not an attorney nor do I play one on TV. This is not legal advice or opinion. It’s simply a collection of information that I have been able to gather from online and offline sources and have applied to political campaigns.