Election Day Sign Advice for Candidates in Future Elections

Mike Walkup

Observations from newly-elected McHenry County Board member Mike Walkup:

Sign Wars

Politicians consider signs to be very important in elections, especially on the local level where there are limited other means to reach voters.

One of the most effective methods is supposed to be signs in the vicinity of polling places on election day as that targets the people who will actually be voting.

In the case of down ballot races, some voters may arrive at the polls not having considered who to vote for beyond the top of the ticket so signs can be particularly important with these voters.

Therefore, you will see midnight sign brigades out the night before the election putting up signs as close as possible to all of the polling places.

In some locations this can be difficult as the signs have to be placed more than 100 feet from the door of the polling room, which may be off the property and on the public right of way.

This hand made sign against Jack Franks’ County Executive referendum was posted in the right-of-way in front of the Main Beach House in Crystal Lake.

People who live across from polling locations grow weary of being constantly approached by candidates and their supporters requesting sign placement and often reject any sign placement on their properties or may want money in exchange for the privilege.

What is a candidate to do?

An interesting thing happened in the District 3 election.

During the middle of the day, a multitude of signs were swept from in front of several poll locations.

Two of these sweeps were conducted by municipal work crews, in Cary and Crystal Lake.

Others were performed by churches who hosted polling locations.

After a conversation with Mary McClellan, an Assistant State’s Attorney in Cook County who was also a District 3 candidate, I looked up the law in the Election Code. Here is what it says:

“The area on polling place property beyond the campaign free zone {100 feet from the entrance to the room in which the polling occurs}, whether publicly or privately owned, is public forum for the time that the polls are open on an election day…. A person shall have the right to congregate and engage in electioneering on any polling place property while the polls are open beyond the campaign free zone, including but not limited to, the placement of temporary signs.

“This subsection shall be construed liberally in favor or persons engaging in electioneering on all polling place property beyond the campaign free zone for the time that the polls are open on an election day.” (Italics supplied). 10 Illinois Compiled Statutes 5/17, Sec. 17-19 (b). (Illinois Election Code).

(As a caveat, I have not researched any case law that may have followed this enactment so it would have to be further researched before it can be conclusively relied upon).

What does this mean?

Except for the problem that Dennis Anderson was not running for Congress in precincts voting at the Crystal Lake Main Beach House, these signs were placed legally on park district property.

First of all, churches and private schools can designate their entire grounds as “campaign free zones” in accordance with the preceding paragraph not quoted here, forcing candidate signs to the public right of ways surrounding those properties.

However, to do so the signs marking the 100 foot distance must be placed at their property boundaries by the election judges.

They usually don’t do that.

In the case of the Evangelical Free Church in Crystal Lake, and the Church of the Holy Apostles in McHenry, this was not done, yet signs were removed that had been placed near the entrances on church property well outside of the 100 foot zone.

Second, polling places which are not either private schools nor churches cannot limit sign placement on their properties outside of the 100 foot mark, regardless of how large their properties are.

For example, Cary High School should not have been able to prohibit sign placement on the long approaches to the building, as they did, causing candidate signs to be removed by the Village of Cary from the right of way in mid day.

The same holds true for the VFW Hall in McHenry which did the same thing, although the City of McHenry did not remove the signs placed at the entrance on the right of way along Route 120.

The same holds true for the Salvation Army location in Crystal Lake.

All signs there were forced onto the right of way where they were removed by the City of Crystal Lake work crews.

Ditto for the Crystal Lake Park District, although no one attempted to put signs up on PD property as far as I am aware.  [There were signs at the Main Beach House polling place.]

This applies only to the actual properties of the polling locations and probably the adjacent right of ways.

It would not apply to right of ways across or down the street from the property of the polling place.

The Village of Cary was actually proper in removing signs from the right of way as they were placed across the street from the High School property.

However, signs could have been placed directly on the High School property itself, which for some reason was not attempted by any of the candidates.

This raises an interesting question about early voting.

All of the early voting locations are at government buildings which cannot prohibit sign placement on their properties beyond the 100 foot mark.

This exception applies only to the hours of operation of the polls, and only to “election day”.

Theoretically candidates could festoon the often large grounds of government buildings such as Crystal Lake City Hall, McHenry City Hall, the County Government Center, and the township office locations with their signs, so long as they put them up every morning and removed them every night when the polls at those locations closed.

Given that the law is to be “liberally construed” in favor of free expression, the term “election day” should probably extend to the entire early voting period, although the Election Code, which has not been amended since early voted was adopted, does not discuss that.

Awareness of this provision in the Election Code by candidates in future elections could transform the election day sign placement as currently practiced.

I would imagine that it could be beneficial for candidates and/or political parties to meet with the people in charge of the various poll locations in advance of election day to ensure they are aware of this provision so their signs are not trashed.

Once the election is underway, it is typically difficult to find someone with authority to order that the signs not be removed and to get that communicated to work crews or janitorial staff.

Perhaps ground rules could be worked out for early voting locations so candidates would not have to repeatedly install and remove signs in exchange for an agreement about placement, number and size of signs.


Election Day Sign Advice for Candidates in Future Elections — 13 Comments

  1. This was an issue at a few different places.

    I too noticed several polling places (I believe all were churches, if I recall correctly) where I had placed signs and then later saw that all signs (not just mine) had been removed.

    I also know of at least one church that forbid electioneering on their property.

    I think that any place that wants to forbid electioneering should also not be allowed to be a polling place.

    Or, the law should be changed to not allow the forbidding of electioneering.

    I also have wondered about the early voting locations and signs… they were completely void of signs this year, but I have a feeling that the more we see of early voting, the more we will also of signs.

    It isn’t too difficult for a campaign to get signs out to the limited number of early voting sites.

  2. The churches would have to coordinate with the election judges at the beginning of the day to place the markers at the property boundaries.

    Otherwise they will be placed at the 100 foot mark and everything else on the property becomes available.

  3. i remember seeing walkup signs on private property without permission. is this legal? last time i checked it was called littering and trespassing

  4. Can’t wait for Walkup to get on the Board to occupy his mind.

    Feel sorry for the Board members though.

    They better elect a Chairperson who will stop or restrict Walkup filibusters.

  5. Very interesting.

    I remember trhat when a relative was running for county board more than a decade ago we spent the entire night before election day placing signs at every polling place, making sure they were at least 100 feet from the door to observe the electioneering rule, and were not on private property.

    We went to the same polling places the next day to drop off treats for the election judges and every sign, every one, was gone within 12 hours of our having placed them.

    And they had not just been taken down and thrown in the nearest trash can, they had completely disappeared.

    Now I discover that was probably illegal, whether it was the village, the county, IDOT or persons unkown that took them.

    I have been an election judge for several years but I am always learning something new.

    Most campaigns know of the anti-electioneering rules, but very few know of the pro-electioneering guidelines.

    Case in point: several years ago our polling place was at a school in a district where there was a school tax increase referendum on the ballot.

    A gentleman was distributing anti-referendum literature in the parking lot, and the principal demanded that we judges force the man to leave.

    Both the Democratic and Republican judges refused, saying it was his right as long as he was 100 feet away.

    The principal was so angry she refused to let us use her school as a polling place in future elections.

    It might be useful in the future for the county political party organizations to draft a letter citing the law regarding political signage on election day and distribute it to polling places and municipalities in advance.

    It wouldn’t prevent individuals from stealing signs, but it might encourage village crews and polling place owners from mistakenly tearing them down and breaking the law.

  6. Churches take money (our money) from the Clerk’s Office to be an election site.

    If they take our money, they should be subjected to our rules.

    They should allow signs on their property.

  7. Privately owned property is privately owned property.

    A church, a VFW Hall, the Salvation Army- all private property.

    Why can’t they decide they don’t want election signs out front?

    I can see the school or the Park District owned properties might have to put up with it but private ownership used to mean something.

  8. Why shouldn’t they be able to decide not to have signs?

    Because as a polling place, they are acting as a public space, at least for Election Day.

    IMO, if they don’t like the rules, they shouldn’t be able to change them. They just shouldn’t play the game.

  9. I believe there is a reference in the election laws that schools MUST make their buildings available for polling places.

    Some cooperate; some schools have been very difficult.

    I think the “angy principal” who refused to let them use HER school as a polling place should be reminded that it is not HER school, it belongs to the taxpayers, voters included.

    I, for one, am fed up with any of the schools that take this position; as teachers, and educators, they should reinforce the right and privilege we have to vote in a free election.

  10. Useful as always- the days after an election- school everyone on sign ordinances.

    Much like addressing the board about the importance of putting the chair at large on the ballot- after the opportunity passed.


    Gosh I am so proud of my fellow voters…..

  11. Anonymous, that was what we told the principal, who was claiming that the canvasser in the parking lot was a “safety hazard.”

    It’s her school any other day, but on election day it’s a polling place, other rules apply, and the election judges are in charge. We wound up having to call the county, which sent someone out to remind her.

    That’s what made her so angry.

  12. Cal,

    Many years ago you gave me advice- ugly colors draw eyeballs. I still pass that on, even though I live in Georgia.

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