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Staff photo by Don Himsel

Richard Lawrence of Hollis picks up campaign signs for Newt Gingrich on Broad Street in Nashua Wednesday, January 11, 2012.
Thursday, January 12, 2012

Signs may go almost as soon as candidates

Now that the primary is over, we know what you’re thinking: When are all those campaign signs going away?

By a week from Friday at the latest, says New Hampshire law.

But here’s an addendum for impatient folks out there: You can’t get rid of them, no matter how much you want to, unless you work for the town or the campaign.

Political signs along roadsides and in peoples’ yards have long been an important part of the New Hampshire primary.

“There is no doubt that campaigns focus more on signs here than anywhere else in the country,” says Mike Dennehy, a prominent New Hampshire Republican strategist, told the online magazine Slate when it looked into the question of whether such signs actually convince anybody. (Their answer: Maybe, maybe not.)

That importance also is reflected in state law, which has several pages concerning political signs.

Laws guide where political signs can be placed (nowhere without the property owner’s permission, except state-owned rights of way if they don’t “obstruct the safe flow of traffic,” and never on a utility pole) as well as who can remove them (only the campaign that placed them or “state or town maintenance or law enforcement personnel” if it’s on public property).

Now that primary day has passed, the really important part of RSA 664:17 is this sentence: “All political advertising shall be removed by the candidate no later than the second Friday following the election.”

That means Jan. 20 is the deadline.

The reality is that the signs usually get taken down. Even if you buy in bulk, the small signs cost $1 or so apiece, including the wire or stick that holds it, so there are tens of thousands of dollars worth lining our highways and byways. That’s good reason for campaigns to gather them up for future use.

Speaking of future use, RSA 664:17 contains an interesting loophole. Signs must be removed by Jan. 20 “unless the election is a primary and the advertising concerns a candidate who is a winner in the primary.”

That sounds like Mitt Romney’s campaign can leave its signs up until November. Not so, says Deputy Nashua City Clerk Tricia Piecuch.

Tuesday’s vote wasn’t a primary under that legal definition, because the winner doesn’t automatically become the party candidate, the way the winner does in state party primary elections in the fall. Romney still has a lot of elections and a convention to go.

“The fact is he may not be the candidate in November if he doesn’t get the nomination,” she said.

Ergo, his signs aren’t protected under the exemption and have to be uprooted along with everybody else’s, she said.

Political signs produce lots of debate among political operatives, generally involving complaints that X swiped Y’s signs, or vice versa. The highest-profile recent example involved Elliot Lasky, husband of then-state Sen. Bette Lasky, who was photographed taking down signs critical of his wife, but The Telegraph hears similar complaints every election season.

Nonetheless, said Piecuch, in Nashua, the situation rarely rises to the level of official notice.

“We haven’t had any problems in the past few years,” she said.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or