Sign. Sign. Everywhere a sign. With the municipal election about a month away, campaigns have kicked into high gear and the countryside is littered with placards denoting the names of a litany of council and trustee hopefuls.
On one hand, it’s a powerful sign of the democratic process with candidates creating interest in an upcoming vote on some of the politics that most directly affect our day-to-day lives. On the other, that same signage can often be seen as distracting and a nuisance. Some placards challenge local signage bylaws due to their size or their placement. Each time an election rolls around, there always seem to be stories about these advertisements being vandalized or stolen, also.
Inevitably, the question arises about whether election signage is truly needed. In all likelihood, it could probably be scrapped or limited, saving expense from the public purse, and few would notice much tangible difference. Yes, campaign signage does get a names out in the public eye, but unless a candidate is especially creative, it’s usually just a different name, a different font and colours, and some catchy slogan. If electors are actually voting on signage alone, then that’s a sad commentary on their involvement in the electoral process.
The convention also used to be that more signage might somehow show a candidate is more popular than another, but that isn’t necessarily the case now. Candidates rush to put signs on public property, which isn’t any indication of support and their decisions might either show they have a large pool of resources or a propensity to spend money foolishly.
At best, campaign signs should direct voters to find out more about the candidates running for office. Inevitably, the interested voter will turn to the Internet, to social media, and to public debates to determine what a candidate is really about, so logically, candidates should be spending their money on advertising opportunities that allow them a chance to show that they have a platform or prove they are accessible and willing to listen to potential constituents.
Several municipalities developed bylaws ahead of this election to restrict the use of signage this election campaign in various ways. In municipalities that didn’t, there have also been stories of candidates trying to reach agreements among themselves to limit the practice. With respect to companies who do good business serving candidates each time an election rolls around, it would be a welcomed step for provincial legislation to create uniform limitations for roadside signage that apply in every municipality. That could eliminate pressure and political will to rewrite the rules each campaign.
That said, it is valuable for candidates to have some access to signage to promote name recognition. Selected posting areas in each electoral district, their numbers decided based on population and geography, would allow for a connection with voters that isn’t overly intrusive. It is hoped that allowance would provide a linkage to other forms of campaigning that could lead to a better informed electorate not overwhelmed by the presence of campaign materials. Campaigns, after all, should be about issues and the competencies of those who would deal with them.
It’s a long time until the next municipal campaign, but as the newly elected officials have their experiences at front of mind, there’s no better time to start planning and evaluating improvements to the process.