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Political signs of the past, present and future

Just try to complain to authorities about Action Line’s Ross Perot for President yard sign. (Action Line)

Dear Action Line: What’s up with all the political signs still posted around the county? Do these people not know that the 2020 election is over? – The Longest Year

Dear Longest: Apologies for truncating your question and changing your name, but folks are easily offended these days, so we have turned this question generic.

So, do you want the long answer or the short answer? Well, here’s both.

Action Line’s weekslong research seems to point to one conclusion: Legally, there isn’t a whole lot a state or local government can do to restrict campaign signs on private property. A 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Reed v. Town of Gilbert) made it very difficult for governments to do much of any regulating on “content-based” signs. It’s a freedom of speech issue. (For more information, consult the First Amendment.)

This goes for how long before the election it is installed, and how long after the election it remains.

That said, some local regulations exist, and let’s go over those.

City of Durango code enforcement guru Steve Barkley acknowledged the power of the 2015 decision. The city, he said, can only regulate “TYPES of signs, typically their location and style.”

“The most common type of ‘election’ sign would be considered a ‘temporary yard sign’ by our code,” Barkley said.

Temporary yard signs are limited to 12 square feet. You can have larger, 48-square-foot signs in the yard during the 30 days before an election. After the election, the sign (political or not) again is limited to 12 square feet.

In addition, Barkley said, political signs are allowed in commercial windows any time of the year, as long as they take up less than 25% of the window space.

Similarly, La Plata County’s residential sign code does not directly address political signs, said Ted Holteen, the county’s public and governmental affairs manager. (The planning department actually revised its information a bit, and deleted a reference to election signs, after Action Line’s inquiry.)

The county code allows temporary signs to be displayed for no more than 30 consecutive days. These can be displayed twice per calendar year for a total of no more than 60 days.

“The bottom line,” Holteen said, “is no one is going to drive around telling people what signs they can display unless they’re on the prohibited list and are actually dangerous – i.e., reflective, blocking roads, etc.”

The town of Bayfield, which may need to update its regulations, says election campaign signs must be removed no more than 10 days after the election.

One key point: Homeowners associations can put some restrictions on election signs, although these HOA restrictions are somewhat regulated by Colorado law.

Many local governments have suspended efforts to enforce “content-based” codes regarding signs. So, Action Line believes you’re just going to have to put up with these signs for the foreseeable future, which means until people understand the ramifications of Reed v. Gilbert a little better.

Those who disagree with Action Line’s assessment can feel free to make a challenge. The 2015 Supreme Court ruling, as well as concurring opinions, left a lot of questions. It would be fun to go argue it at the U.S. Supreme Court, because most of us never get to do that. (Action Line personally knows only three such people, all local attorneys.)

Dear Action Line: Hi, I am a junior in high school. My teacher in the career orientation class required us to study careers we are interested in and learn more from actual people in those jobs. I really like your column, so I want to be an Action Line writer for a major newspaper like The Durango Herald. How can I best prepare myself for this career? – A.L. Wanda Bee

Dear Wanda: Action Line longs for the days when this might have been a serious question, rather than an obvious plant from a creative friend. But just for fun, let’s pretend this was a real question ...

So, you think you seriously have what it takes to be an Action Line writer?

Then please, use that talent and find a real job! Accountant, attorney, physician’s assistant, sous chef, dental technician, real estate magnate. Now, leave Action Line alone.

... Huh, are you still here?

Well, the world could use some good, well-informed, even-handed journalists to tell people what’s really going on in this confusing, ever-more-polarized world. Go for it, and find a way to be heard by the masses. The world is counting on you.

Email questions and suggestions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. If you want to embarrass Action Line, ask about the time he almost got kicked out of the press area at the Supreme Court for wearing a bolo tie.

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