This post is by Roger Carlton, columnist for the Graham Star Newspaper. Thank you, Roger, for contributing to this site.
We tend to think of pollution in terms of air and water quality. After all, we need to breathe, drink clean water and be protective of our pristine Lake Santeetlah. Noise pollution like dogs barking incessantly or loud machinery can add to our woes. Visual pollution is an irritant to some folks. One person's business necessity like sky high triple billboards along I-75 in Georgia is another person's ugliness blocking scenic views. Additional forms of pollution barrage us with spam, phishing scams, unsolicited phone calls, junk mail and messages left on our windshields.
This column is about political signs. NCGS 14-156, 136-18 and 136-32 all deal with political signs. NCDOT Rules which are as long as the Blue Ridge Parkway also give guidance on the subject of signs. If your local jurisdiction is into regulation, there may also be county or city rules. Don't worry about that in Graham County.
Distilling all this with detail would require far more space than available. Here are a few key rules.
Signs advertise candidates or issues that will be on the ballot. The content cannot be controlled as this violates the First Amendment.
Signs cannot go up until the 30th day before "one-stop" voting begins. That means that political signs can start to be planted on September 15th in North Carolina. Expect an apocryphal locust plague of these signs to be planted in the next few days.
Signs must be removed within 10 days after the election by the candidate.
Signs must be at least three feet from the edge of the pavement. Signs placed on Duke Power poles are placed on private property which must have permission.
Signs must not block the view and are limited in height to 42 inches above the pavement. The sign cannot be bigger than 864 square inches. That is six square feet. Anything larger on public right of way is illegal.
No sign shall block or replace another sign. Tell that to the people placing the signs in front of Walgreens.
Here is the big deal. It is a Class 3 misdemeanor to steal, deface, vandalize or remove a political sign that is lawfully placed. This infraction carries a fine of up to $200 or 20 days in jail. Marijuana possession in small amounts or hunting without a license are Class 3 misdemeanors so be careful when you are hunting without a license, doing up a doobie or political sign stealing. To our Legislature, they are all equally egregious violations.
Be patient all you folks who get torqued over political sign pollution. Anyone can take down the signs if they remain 30 days after the election without fear of paying the fine or going to jail. Let's hope the candidates do that on their own.