School has started, football season is upon us, temperatures are falling and the political season is heating up.
Public participation is necessary to our democracy, whether we are involved in a national election or a local school levy. As the Western writer Louis L’Amour said, “To make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants.”
I appreciate citizens who are passionately involved in the civic arena. As with many aspects of life, however, we should not let our passion trump our common sense.
Yard signs are part of the political process in Washington. There are times, however, when they may look like litter. As the song says, “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind.”
While it may be tempting to dispose of political signs, it is illegal. In Washington, it is a misdemeanor for a person to remove or deface lawfully placed political advertising, which includes yard signs. A misdemeanor is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Each sign removed or defaced is a separate crime.
If the sign is on public property or the right of way, assume it is there legally. If you believe it is not legally placed, check with the county or city. Do not appoint yourself as sign cop. This does not give you immunity. People can be prosecuted for stealing or damaging political signs, but like all crime, we would rather it did not happen.
While signs may be annoying, especially those that represent positions or candidates we disagree with, yard signs are not litter. Yard signs are the look of democracy. America’s greatness derives from our people and our democratic principles. Each of us who participates in the political process does so because we want to help make our community a better place to live. That’s an American principle.
As part of the process, we are free to disagree. That’s another American principle. Stealing or defacing the signs of those we disagree with is not only illegal, it is un-American.
Enjoy the political season, enter the arena, improve our community and appreciate every yard sign you pass – it’s the look of democracy.
And don’t forget to vote.
Mark Lindquist is the Pierce County prosecutor.