homepage logo

Signs of the times: Political signage posting must follow laws

By Toni Milbourne - For the Chronicle | Sep 11, 2020

Political signs have begun to fill open spaces around the county, including at the Food Lion intersection on Route 340 in Charles Town. Toni Milbourne

SHEPHERDSTOWN — As the November general election draws near, the number of political signs increasing in number, as local residents attempt to encourage voters to select their preferred candidates. The signs pop up nearly everywhere, from yards to shopping center entrances.

The signs do fall under restrictions, regarding where they can be legally placed. Recently, the lack of knowledge about these rules has been highlighted by the increase in signs being posted on private property without permission, as well as sign vandalism.

Each candidate, and those working to help them get elected, should be familiar with laws regarding posting of signage.

WV Code Section 17-19-1 states that no person shall paint, mark, post, tack, nail or otherwise affix any sign, advertisement, notice, picture, drawing, emblem, poster, printing or writing, other than those placed and maintained in pursuance of law, on or to any stone, rock, tree, fence, stump, post, pole, building or other structure, which is in or upon the right-of-way of any public road or highway, including the road or highway itself, except that the commissioner may provide for suitable road signs, danger signals and other signs of informational nature. These prohibitions include, but are not limited to, such devices which are intended to invite or draw attention of the public to the candidacy of any person for any public office; and any such device which exists in violation of the provisions of this section shall constitute prima facie evidence the person whose candidacy appears thereon violated this section.

Secretary of State Mac Warner has indicated the Elections Division has notified all candidates of the prohibition, and guidance is available in candidate guides, which his office provides to all candidates. Candidates are responsible for the placement of their signs, no matter who places the signs for the candidate.

“Inevitably, some candidates or their supporters will place signs on state-owned property, despite the law and despite our advice not to do it,” Warner said. “They do so at their own risk and subject themselves to penalties of the law.”

In addition to the State Code, the state Department of Highways issued their own advisory defining what is prohibited, relating to political signs. According to their regulations, signs cannot be placed on or above a Division of Highways right of way, which normally stretches 20 feet from the center line of a public road. Distances do vary, however, so one should contact the West Virginia Division of Highways if uncertain. Signs must also conform to a any municipal ordinances regulating outdoor advertising.

The DoH also stresses that signs cannot obscure any views at connecting roads or intersections, and cannot be placed on elements in nature, including rocks or trees. Political overhead banners cannot be erected at any time.

Any candidate or political committee with questions or concerns is encouraged to contact the West Virginia Secretary of State Elections Division at 304-558-6000.