Each political campaign season seems to be more cluttered than the last one by supportive placards on homeowners’ fences and yards. The City Council should set a November deadline to enact an ordinance putting controls on the sign onslaught while it remains disturbingly in sight.
Lawmakers are reluctant to address the issue for constitutional and self-preserving political reasons – but mitigation can and should happen.
A seemingly modest law that restricted political signs standing on private property up to 45 days before an election and 10 days after was shot down in 1996 by the Attorney General’s office. The Legislature followed by repealing the law.
State legislators seemed on the verge of limiting the size of planted signs in 2008 before they caucused in private and decided to send the bill into oblivion.
Gary Hooser, then the Senate’s majority leader, explained that the bill would have applied not only to political signs but also to advertisements for chicken sales or displays of sports fan support. Hooser added that it would have interfered with county home rule.
Now, a proposal by Honolulu City Councilman Ikaika Anderson would exercise that role. Like the 2008 state bill, it would prohibit political signs larger than 2 by 4 feet, or 8 square feet.
Unlike the state bill, Anderson’s proposal does not incorporate a restriction that would have limited the total area of all signs for a single residence to 16 square feet. Many yards and fences are plastered with multiple identical signs supporting the same candidate.
It also would restrict postings from
120 days before an election to no more than 30 days after the polls close, which would test the attorney general’s 1996 opinion. The candidate, not the homeowner, would be subject to fines for violating the restriction, according to Anderson’s bill.
A City Council hearing on the proposal is planned for next month, even as the idea gains traction among Honolulu’s four mayoral candidates.
In a new survey to be released soon, the Outdoor Circle asked them about the proposed political sign ordinance, among other things. All four said they support legislation that would bring some level of control to the posting of campaign signs.
Candidates are prohibited now from posting their signs on public property or utility poles. However, they go overboard in posting signs everywhere else, sometimes without the homeowner’s permission and other times with payment to the homeowner, which would have been illegal under the 2008 state bill.
Voters who see a candidate’s sign in multiple at the same location should regard that as an abuse and act accordingly at the polls.
Federal courts have ruled that moderate restrictions on political signs do not violate the candidate’s or the homeowner’s First Amendment rights. The City Council should recognize those limitations in bringing sanity to Oahu’s yards and fences during every other autumn in the future.