With the November election just weeks away, political signs are popping up everywhere.
And some signs, officials with local branches of both political parties say, are disappearing just as quickly as they're placed in yards or empty lots.
The stealing of political signs is hugely problematic for several reasons.
For one thing, it's a petty, juvenile thing to do. What are sign-stealers hoping to accomplish? Do they truly think that the person who placed that sign in support of a candidate in their front yard will change their vote simply because their sign is gone? Do they think that passersby who no longer have the sign to look at will be swayed in their vote?
Even if it's petty and juvenile, let's be clear in that stealing other people's property is in fact a crime. Sign-stealers who are prosecuted and convicted will face real consequences — the possibility of a fine or jail time.
A second — and, to us, more important — reason that this is a problem is that the theft of political signs interferes with people's First Amendment rights.
Everyone has the First Amendment right to free speech. This means that they get to support the political candidate of their choice, and they get to say that, if they choose, in the form of a sign in their front yard.
When those signs are stolen, people are being denied their freedom of speech and expression. It's censorship, plain and simple. And who are the sign-stealers to determine who gets to exercise their freedom of speech and who doesn't?
Political signs are a form of political speech, and that is protected. Crucially, the freedom of speech is critical to the political process that forms our democratic government.
The election is close, and passion for or against candidates for all types of races is running high. But the best thing we can choose to do is put up a sign (if we want), leave others' signs alone and then exercise our right to vote on Nov. 3.