As Election Day nears, the piles of illegally placed political signs are growing at Howard County's three highway maintenance yards.
"This [year] has been the worst it's ever been. I don't know why people spend so much money," said James M. Irvin, the county public works director.
Virtually every candidate is a violator, from County Executive James N. Robey, a Democrat, and Steven H. Adler, his Republican opponent, to lightly funded school board candidate Barry Tevelow.
Election signs are prohibited on public property of any kind, including road rights of way.
Of course, Republicans tend to see only illegal Democratic signs, and vice versa, and candidates say they never place signs in road rights of way. Only over-exuberant volunteers do that.
But the piles keep growing.
Yellow signs promoting Brandon Braunlich for delegate, which once adorned the curbs of Oakland Mills Road, are atop C. Vernon Gray-for-state-Senate signs, which are mixed with a number of signs pushing candidacies of Brian Harlin and David Rakes for County Council. Also in the mix are signs seeking votes for Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for governor and Robert R. Tousey for state's attorney.
"I've seen illegal signs from nearly every candidate in every part of the county - without exception," said Bob Adams, a Republican running for House of Delegates.
He specifically complained about a Democratic-combination sign promoting Gray for Senate and Neil Quinter for delegate at Oakland Mills Road and Snowden River Parkway in Columbia. The sign was blocking his recent attempt to set up a huge Adams sign to stand in front of for a few hours of waving at traffic.
"Certainly, though, one must believe Vernon or Neil would never place such an illegal sign," Adams said.
Quinter said he has not seen "more than a handful of my signs, literally, along roads. More than 98 percent of my signs are on residents' lawns. I haven't seen one Bob Adams sign on a lawn, but I've seen dozens and dozens of them along roads."
Irvin said his crews do not go out specifically looking for campaign signs, but they are instructed to pick up any they happen upon that are illegally placed. The signs are taken to the Dayton highway shop, the county maintenance facility in Cooksville or the eastern county shop at Mayfield, near Interstate 95. The county has collected 300 to 400 signs, he said.
Candidates may claim them, or the signs will be recycled.
More alarming, Irvin said, are campaigners trying to attract motorists' attention at rush hour, especially now as the days grow shorter.
"The worst one I saw was dressed in a Frankenstein hat along Route 108. It was bizarre," he said about the man, who was helping in Courtney Watson's school board campaign.
Rakes, a Democrat running for County Council, said his volunteers sometimes "overreact" in placing signs. He had several signs near the Columbia Crossing shopping center on Dobbin Road at Dobbin Lane, he said.
"When I got back, there were 30 signs there that boxed me in. The next day, they were all gone."
Harlin, his Republican opponent, said the county is being evenhanded in removing signs.
"I think they're doing a fair job," he said, acknowledging that several volunteers in his campaign were placing his signs indiscriminately.
But unlike others, Harlin does not worry about the cost of lost signs - because his business is manufacturing them at his Elkridge shop.
"I can make 2,000 to 3,000 signs tonight. I won't run out of signs," he said.