Those candidate signs that you see peppering the landscape all over the North Country this time of year sometimes fall victim to theft.
The people perpetrating these crimes — and it is a crime, make no mistake — are obviously characterized more by immaturity than intelligence. How much effect do they really think it has to pull up an election sign and sneak off with it?
Sometimes, of course, the signs are taken by young people with mischief on their minds. They might be walking down a street and think it is cool to grab signs.
Other times, a misguided supporter takes or destroys signs placed by opponents. That is of no help at all to the person of their choice. If anything, it creates suspicion that the candidate is using unethical means to try to get elected.
Essex County Sheriff Richard Cutting recently encouraged people, through a Letter to the Editor in the Press-Republican, to leave campaign signs alone.
“Taking or damage to signs under cover of darkness does more harm than good and is not what the election process is all about,” he wrote. “We have a system where anyone can put themselves up for public office and they all deserve a fair chance, not subject to sabotage in the dead of night. Please honor our system and leave the signs as they are placed.”
And it goes beyond a matter of honor. People who steal signs can be charged with an actual crime: petit larceny. They may wind up facing a fine, jail time or both.
And don’t think those arrests never happen because they have, right here in the North Country, over the years.
Plattsburgh City Police Chief Desmond Racicot said that every election season they receive calls from candidates reporting sign theft.
Sometimes the missing signs can be put down to “bad behavior” by vandals, he said, but other times, police have investigated cases where specific candidates were targeted.
Sometimes, dozens of signs are taken. While that might not add up to a great deal of money — some signs can be procured for $3 or $4 apiece — it is still more than an inconvenience for the candidates. They have lost money, may suffer from reduced name recognition and have to go through all the work of placing the signs over again.
Few local candidates have high-powered political backing or hefty budgets. Most of them are using their own cash or money donated by family and friends to purchase campaign supplies. Besides the signs, they might be buying advertisements or having palm cards printed or trinkets made to hand out.
It isn’t easy to put yourself out in the public as a political candidate. No one should make it harder on these commendable citizens.