The Signs of the Season

August 10, 1994

Along with this year's crops of corn, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and eggplants, a large crop of political signs has sprouted up alongside Carroll's highways, roads and streets. Politicians and their supporters planted these placards in hopes of reaping attention that will translate into votes on election day.

Instead of the intended harvest, the yield seems to have produced a great deal of adverse publicity. At least two candidates have been told to remove their signs that were either too large or placed without authorization. With four weeks until the primary, disputes over these political posters are just beginning.

Prominent candidates have already been embarrassed. Campaign workers for Commissioner Donald I. Dell placed signs on Hampstead town property and at the Carroll County Farm Museum. Once notified of the mistake, the signs were taken down. Supporters of Republican House of Delegates candidate Stephen R. Chapin Sr. had to dismantle two of his signs on Willis Street in Westminster. Even though they were placed on a lot the candidate owns, the placards exceeded the size limit for signs on a residential street. Ellen Willis, a Democratic delegate hopeful who lives next to the lot, removed the large banner from the back of her house because it, too, violated the city's sign ordinance.

News stories about these signs are not the type of attention these candidates wanted. However, every election season, signs of various sizes, colors and levels of creativity clutter the landscape. Even the most clever political consultants can't demonstrate that the signs generate more votes. When it comes to political signs, conventional wisdom seems to predominate: The more, the better and the bigger, the better.

The result is a heated competition among candidates to cover the landscape with these markers. There is jostling for strategic locations. Homeowners are cajoled into placing signs on their lawns. Unscrupulous supporters tear down or deface opponents' signs. If as much energy was expended on developing answers to the pressing issues as is devoted to placing these political posters, the voters would reap a bounteous harvest.

The one nice thing is that, like weeds that crop up during the growing season, the political signs eventually disappear when the elections are over. But like weeds, they always come back.

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