The theft and vandalism of candidates’ campaign signs is an especially serious offense because of its corrosive effects upon democracy. When a campaign sign is stolen or defaced, it is not just the sign that is affected but also the First Amendment-protected message the sign carried and the right of voters to read that message.
That is why stealing and defacing campaign signs is a separate criminal offense and, due to a change in the law that I wrote several years ago, it is also illegal to steal and deface signs promoting or opposing referendums, initiatives and propositions.
Unfortunately, the frequency of these criminal acts has been increasing each year. This year, I put up 150 signs promoting my re-election to the Arizona House of Representative and over 100 have been stolen. One Scottsdale City Council candidate even had an obscene message spray-painted on most of his signs.
Arrests are rare because it is difficult for the police to catch the culprits in the act. It is important that if you see a sign being defaced or stolen, you call the police with a description of the perpetrator, his or her vehicle and the location. Even better would be to get a picture of the act and the license plate of the culprit but only if safe to do so.
Many people dislike campaign signs because they consider them aesthetically offensive but, just like the roar of fighter jets in the vicinity of Luke Air Force Base is the “sound of freedom,” that cluster of campaign signs on the corner is the “display of freedom” – people in totalitarian countries don’t have to worry about campaign signs disturbing their views or even voting for that matter.