As if candidates didn’t have to endure enough potshots on the recent campaign trail, now their signs will take the same treatment.
The legacy of every political season includes roadsides dotted with campaign signs, sturdy plastic requests that a voter look favorably upon the name displayed. But once the season is over and the signs are still there, that’s when Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson and his deputies take over.
Amerson saidafter each election, his office collects any remaining signs from the right of way outside city limits. The signs are held at the department for a time, but if the candidates don’t come pick them up, they are recycled — in a fashion uniquely suited to the needs of law enforcement.
“When candidates don’t get them, and very often they don’t, we will hold them for a while and if they aren’t retrieved, we use them as target back stops on our range,” Amerson said. “I don’t know how people would recycle them anyway and for us it works out really good because we can cut them to fit.”
The signs are cut to fit the frames and covered with a paper target. The material they’re typically made of is similar to the material already used on the department’s range, but much stronger, Amerson said.
“On the firearms range, you normally use cardboard,” Amerson said. “These signs are essentially plastic cardboard so they last a lot longer. They’ll last until you shoot them to pieces. ”
Amerson said the strength of the material is the main reason they collect the signs in the first place.
“We do it every election because if we don’t they stay,” he said. “Those signs are plastic and they last a long time. They don’t rot.”
Amerson often receives complaints from people who are frustrated by the signs that spring up like weeds during election season and seem to be just as hardy afterward. As an elected official who has used campaign signs in the past, Amerson said he tries to keep his signs off of the right of way because he doesn’t like the image they give.
“I had to drive to Montgomery and all the way there and back was decorated with political signs,” he said. “It’s not necessarily the candidate doing it. You have people that are supporting you and helping you and there are folks that think that it improves your chances if your signs are everywhere.”
Amerson said campaign signs can be expensive, and depending on the quantity and the company that makes them, signs can sometimes cost $5 each.
“As a candidate, you spend a lot of money on signs and we don’t want to casually dispose of their investment without letting them know first,” he said.
That’s why the office notifies all of the candidates to retrieve them before they are recycled. However, he also said that when candidates put signs on the right of way, they risk losing them.
“You have no right to anticipate that they won’t disappear,” he said. “They are fair game for someone to clean up.”
Amerson counts the collection as just another part of the office’s job.
“The county uses people who have to do public community service as part of their jail sentence, for example,” he said. “Picking up litter is something that the government does, and this is no different.”
Tana Bryant, the Anniston code enforcement officer, said the city views campaign signs in the same light. After the election is over, the city collects any signs that are on the right of way, but instead of holding them for candidates, workers dispose of them.
“Our ordinance states that they are considered litter,” she said. “We don’t have to sit and hold on to them.”
Bryant said they send out a notice to the candidates before the election specifying where the signs can be placed and when they need to be picked up after the race is complete.
“We try to get it at the front end,” she said. “The candidates themselves aren’t always the ones placing them out, though. It’s their workers.”
Bryant said the signs she collects often stay in the back of her truck for a few days and if a candidate calls about a sign she has, they can pick it up.
“I don’t immediately throw them away, but the ordinance gives me that leeway that I don’t have to hold onto them,” she said. “If somebody calls saying, ‘Have you seen my signs?’ they can have them, but I’m not going to pick them up and hold them for people.”