As in during most election years, the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department is seeing a surge in the theft of political signs in the area. Sheriff Dan Bullock said his department has already received a report that one candidate had more than 20 signs stolen. The signs were thrown in the candidate’s pond by the vandals, according to Bullock.
“This sort of thing has been a problem in this area during election years,” he said. “This was the first this year so far. We have had reports of signs that were down, but most likely the weather had something to do with those. I can remember one year someone took my signs down and threw them in Cedar Lake.”
Bullock said while his deputies may have a hard time catching the vandals in the act, he said if they are caught they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
“They could face charges of trespassing and property damage,” he said. “These campaign signs aren’t cheap. I’ve told my officers to be on the look out for any suspicious activity around the signs. The people who do this think they are hurting the candidates by taking their signs down, but all they are really doing is giving the candidates motivation to work that much harder.”
Bullock said he doesn’t think this is a case of one candidate trying to sabotage the other’s campaign.
“I would like to think that none of the candidates would stoop that low,” he said. “Usually it’s a supporter of the opposing candidate, someone the candidate has made an enemy of, or just some kids up to no good.”
Assessor Dan Ward has campaigned in three state representative elections, one state senate election and for the county assessor’s seat. During his campaigns he also had problems with people stealing his signs.
“It was a problem for me,” Ward said. “In fact during one of my campaigns I offered a reward for information leading to the arrest of whoever was responsible for stealing my signs.”
Ward said candidates generally pay for the signs with their own money out of pocket and that they can be quite expensive.
“Then you also have the time and expense involved in going around and putting them up,” he said. “It becomes very expensive for a candidate to try to locate their missing signs and replace them.”
Ward agreed with Bullock that the thefts may not be associated with candidate’s opponent directly, but he did say it is often time a staunch supporter of the opposing candidate.
“It could actually backfire on a candidate if a supporter is found to be doing this,” Ward said. “It would put the candidate’s campaign in a very bad light. As a candidate you hate to see this because it causes nothing, but hard feelings.”
He said when putting out signs, candidates must receive permission from the property owner. When signs are placed on a right-of-way the state, county or city can take down the signs at their own discretion.
“I would encourage all of the candidates to take a trip over to the highway department shed,” Ward said. “They typically have signs piled up. During my campaigns I found a lot of my signs there that I had written off, thinking they had been stolen.”