Campaign sign flood explained

October 29, 2007

It's October, and that means football, cool weather and an infestation of political campaign signs.

Candidates from both sides of the aisle purchase hundreds — and sometimes thousands — of signs from places like, run by Senior Production Manager Ryan Hinsley.

"Every month in America, there's an election somewhere. In some parts of the country, campaign signs are extremely important," Hinsley said. "There is someone behind that sign that’ s voting. Campaign signs are gaining in popularity."

The signs usually cost between $2 and $3, but the price can vary. For each additional color used on a sign, the price climbs higher. The wiring used to stick the sign into the ground costs about 60 cents. Shipping costs also factor into the high prices.

In most cases, the candidates foot the bill for their signs.

"It's generally two sources. Either the candidate themselves, or the 'friends of' the candidate," Joe Muldowney, Pottsville's Republican city chairman said. "In some cases, the party itself will pay for them. The perception of each candidate is that the name will stick in your head on election day."

"I bought about 1,000 signs. The costs all depend on how fancy you want to get," Jason Ghergel, a Republican running for county controller, said.

Keeping up

The main reason for engaging in sign warfare tends to be peer pressure from other candidates. That is, no one wants to be the only political figure whose name is strangely absent from the landscape.

"Then their name is out there and yours isn't," Melinda Kantner, a Democrat running for county controller, said. "It's just a method for getting your name out there. I don't think, probably overall, it does that much good."

The candidates and the companies that make the signs agree that the strategy of running a campaign without signs is probably a mistake.

"When all of the signs go up and you don't have any, your base will cannibalize the campaign," Hinsley said. "People start to think that your campaign has no support."

Buying and disposing

Charlie Dries, Pottsville Democratic city committee chairman, said that his party provides funding to candidates to buy campaign signs.

"Signs do not win elections, but they help to get your name out there," Dries said. "They're one of the many things that make a successful campaign."

For reasons that the city chairmen and candidates can't explain, Schuylkill County seems to have an abnormally high number of the signs. In many cases, a candidate's sign is about three inches away from another sign — promoting his or her opponent.

"I was just down in Reading and they do seem to have fewer signs," Gherghel said. "It does seem over-the-top sometimes."

"I can't wait until the day after the election so I can go take mine down," he said. "I believe that the majority of people drive by a place where there's 50 signs and just shake their heads."

Muldowney said that it is up to each candidate or party to take down the signs after the election.

Raising support

Raising the morale of your base is vital and signs are an effective way of doing that, according to Michael McCord, a Democrat running for Register of Wills.

"For the bang you get for your buck, it gives you something to give to your supporters. It’ s an effective tool and they have multiple purposes," McCord said. "This election cycle, there seems to be an abundance. You have nine candidates (on either side). That's a whole lot of signs. It's like a forest of signs out there."

Quality is more important than quantity when it comes to campaign signs, according to State Rep. Dave Argall, R-124.

"What I've done for the last couple of cycles, I really like the campaign signs in front of people's homes, rather than scattering them all throughout the district," Argall said.

The inevitable

It's become commonplace for campaign signs to be vandalized.

For candidates, seeing vandalism of their signs is disheartening and disturbing, given the money they put into them.

"I lost count of how many of my signs have disappeared," Kantner said. "At least 500 of them. I didn’ t even have enough to put up at the polling places, so I had to order another 300. They even came in our yard and took my sign. I will call it theft. My signs have been ripped up and left by the side of the road. It’ s frustrating and immature."

Kantner's opponent in the controller race, Jason Gherghel, has experienced the same thing, with a bit of a twist.

Gherghel said a 70-year-old Orwigsburg woman discovered a Kantner sign covered in molasses in her yard.

"I can't imagine any grown person would do that," Gherghel said.

The problem is nothing new, and officials say it probably won't go away anytime soon.

"It’ s always an issue in every campaign," Dries said. "It happens every year. People pay good money for these signs."

"Everybody's signs get taken. It comes with the territory," McCord said.

© The REPUBLICAN & Herald 2007. Reprinted with permission.