Campaign Signs In Saratoga: From Electoral Hallmark To Litter

Nov 16, 2013

Saratoga Springs attracts many people who flock to the small city to see sites like the race course, Yaddo, Saratoga Performing Arts Center and the historic downtown. But during election season and even in the weeks after the final votes have been counted, campaign signs dominate the landscape.

Voters in Saratoga Springs elected a new mayor and several other positions last week, and now, many signs and election materials need to be taken down. That responsibility falls to the person who put them up in the first place. If that person, often a campaign volunteer, is nowhere to be found, the next person in line is the campaign itself, according to county supervisor-elect Peter Martin, a Democrat. He says volunteers canvass the city starting the day after the election to clean up the leftover signs.

Each town has its own set of temporary sign laws, and according to Saratoga Springs’ zoning rules, signs must not be posted for more than 60 days and must be removed within 15 days of election day. If candidates post on private property, they must ask permission from the property owner to do so.

It’s not clear what impact signs have on a race, but candidates don’t want to see their name missing from a busy street corner, according to Eileen Finneran, Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety for Saratoga Springs.

“Signs don’t vote, people vote, and sometimes people just put signs up because it’s historically been asked for them to put signs up.”

But when signs are left behind, they often become litter.

Voters sent Democrat Joanne Yepsen to a win in the mayoral campaign. Campaign consultant Steve Napier says often volunteers collect their own signs and return them to campaign headquarters. They are then used again for redistribution in future campaigns or recycled.

“Typically, the same volunteers who put out the signs will try go back out and try and recollect them. We also have district leaders — the city’s divided into 25 districts — who will go out around their districts, pick up their signs and bring them back to headquarters for them to be given back to their respective candidates.”

Post-election cleanup is an issue for many cities, and when people in Saratoga Springs fail to pick the signs back up for whatever reason, the responsibility then falls to the city’s code enforcement officers.

Code Enforcement Officer Dan Cogan says usually there isn’t a problem with sign removal, but signs that disrupt the flow of traffic or become too distracting to drivers on the road present issues.

Temporary signs of any sort are not allowed to be placed in intersections where they can affect sightlines or otherwise prove dangerous to traffic in the area.

Campaign signs can cost anywhere from $1 to $10 apiece. Earlier this year in Wilton, hundreds of campaign signs were found damaged in the controversial primary campaign for Saratoga County sheriff. Again, Steve Napier:

“Signs aren’t cheap so we save them and use them again from year to year.”

Napier added that the campaign tried to follow the zoning ordinances.

“Diligent to do our very best to make sure we don’t violate any ordinances, but sometimes an overzealous volunteer puts a sign where it shouldn’t be, and we notice it or someone in the community alerts us to it we go ahead and correct it right away.”3

In a small city like Saratoga Springs where television advertising might not be as prevalent as in major media markets, campaign signs can be key for candidates in search of name recognition.

Eileen Finneran worked on the campaign for the Democratic incumbent candidate for Commissioner of Public Safety, Chris Mathiesen. 

“They wouldn’t know you’re running if you don’t have a sign, people who are day-to-day people who necessarily don’t pay attention to elections 'til right before they have to vote,” Finneran says.

She said that without sign coverage, it’s hard for candidates to get their name out so people know that they are running. Although the department of public safety has received plenty of complaints in years past, this year in particular didn’t have many reported problems.

“Thinking back to actually last year, we got a lot of complainants last year, this year we didn’t get many at all," Finneran says. "And I think part of that is the committee chairs on both sides of the aisle spoke to each other, and said let’s really get a handle on the signs this year and pay attention to where they are and picking them up after the election.”

WAMC News intern Patrick Garrett is a senior at SUNY Oneonta majoring in Mass Communications with a Concentration in Production and Music Industry.