January 08, 2014 - Atlas Twp.- One candidate. One sign.
The township planning commission voted 7-0 last month to propose a revision of the sign ordinance that takes aim at limiting the number, size and location of temporary political signs at polling facilities within the township.
If approved by the board of trustees, each candidate or voter ballot issue would be limited to one sign no larger than 16 square feet.
Rick Misek, planning commission chairman, said the revision is necessary following an excessive number of signs placed at polling locations during the 2012 election.
"If you dominate the whole field, you're suppressing the rights of others under the First Amendment—freedom of speech of the opposing candidates," he said. "By occupying the whole field at the township polling location—it's a first-come, first-served situation. It's nonsense. That's what we are setting out to do as a planning commission. There needs to be some civil behavior."
Misek, along with township Clerk Tere Onica, reported as many as 50 political signs at St. Mark the Evangelist Parish, 7296 Gale Road—a polling location during the 2012 election.
"The church members get upset, candidates and their supporters come out early and set up signs," added Misek. "It gives the appearance the church is taking a side in the election—that they (the church) are biased. The candidates plant the appearance of support. There's so many good reasons to take this action. It has good government purpose."
Misek suggests the intent of so many political signs near the polling location is to sway the incoming balloter to vote for the last name they see.
"The location of the political sign is already 100 feet from the polling place and not in the right of way of the road," he said. "Signs on private property are already limited to 32 square feet but there are no limits on numbers of signs."
Misek indicated the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been contacted by opponents to the revision.
"I'm still waiting to hear from the ACLU," he added. "It's ironic that should anyone speaks to the issue of suppressing rights when the bullies dominate the whole field at the polling place."
Township Supervisor Shirley Kautman-Jones will not support the change.
"It's way too restrictive," she said. "It could also be very difficult to manage. How do you tell a senator or congressman they can't put up signs? It's troublesome for the township and candidates. What is the purpose of this law? The property is private—the church, in this case, should decide. There's a whole laundry list of guidelines at polling places. Why would it matter if a candidate puts up one or 20 signs? If it's private property we'd get permission anyway. For me, it's all about name recognition and part of the campaign process. It's expression."
Township Clerk Tere Onica, who coordinates the township and village elections, supports the revision.
"My main concern is that local campaigning has gotton out of hand," she said. "Every year it seems to get worse. The revision is necessary to oversee public safety at voting precincts, the hindrance of visibility in driveways at polling locations is a real concern. Cars being stopped by supporters at the polling places and there's a disregard for property."
Onica said the polling locations, such as St. Mark, do not become public domain until 7 a.m. on election days.
"My signs were pulled up and moved," she said. "I don't have the time or manpower to drive around and police the placement of signs. Since every candidate contacts me prior to the election I could inform them of the rules prior to the election. It's just making the playing field equal—it's not taking away any rights, rather supporting the equal rights of all candidates. Last year we had calls to the township from voters that were disgusted. The multiple signs were not only gross, but impedes the election process. Let's have some respect for the election process."
The revision proposed by the planning commission must now pass the township board of trustees.