Election 2017

Philly’s political campaign signs can stay up forever

There’s no time limit. It would be a First Amendment issue.

Political signs
Mark Dent/Billy Penn

Philly’s grassy medians were blanketed in campaign signs before Tuesday’s election. Areas like Roosevelt Boulevard, Delaware Avenue and basically every highway ramp lawn have been shouting candidates’ names for the last month.

Judicial candidates like Ellen Ceisler and Carolyn Nichols hit Delaware Avenue/Columbus Boulevard particularly hard in an attempt to gain more name recognition (successfully, btw).

By Thursday afternoon, many of the were still around. And they could be there forever.

Contrary to conventional opinion, there is no time limit for how long political signs can stay up in Philadelphia, according to the city’s law department. The signs could conceivably be planted in the ground years before an election and years after.

There are some restrictions, however. Philadelphia forbids signs from being posted on poles, streetlights, city-owned trees and any park land. The Department of Parks and Recreation will remove any signs it finds  on park property (as it did Wednesday). PennDOT will also remove signs it deems distracting to drivers on state roads and highways.

Attorney Larry Otter, who represented Jill Stein in her Pennsylvania recount lawsuit last year, said he has filed nearly 100 lawsuits regarding political signage in various counties. The only suit he lost was here in Philadelphia over the ability to put a sign on a pole. Otter has found many suburban towns will try to force people to have permits for putting up signs and mandate that they can only be up for a weeks before and a few weeks after an election.

“That’s unconstitutional,” he said. “You can’t have a time restriction on a political sign.”

But there is an unwritten rule to pick up the signs as quickly as possible. Otter expects most of the signs to be down within a week after the election, and almost all of them after two weeks.

“Both political parties — they have operatives that they will go and take down signs,” he said, “because you don’t want to annoy people with them up after the election.”

Want some more? Explore other Election 2017 stories.

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