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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Political Signs and Municipal Regulation

Every local government election season, questions arise about regulating political signs. We have posted about this issue in the past here and here, but we thought a reminder would be helpful as our election season approaches. 

What is the power of municipalities to regulate outdoor political campaign signs on residential property or on government property?

With respect to regulation of signs on residential property, for many years, there was a debate about municipalities seeking to limit the placement of outdoor political campaign signs on residential property to limited period of time just before elections, and municipalities then required removal of political signs very quickly after an election.  The Illinois General Assembly, some years ago, amended state law to dramatically limit the power of both home rule and non-home rule communities to regulate in any significant way the display of such signs.  

The amendment to the zoning statute limited the power of all Illinois municipalities to prohibit the display of outdoor political campaign signs on residential property during any period of time.  The only power which both home rule and non-home rule communities possess would be to place “reasonable restrictions as to size” on such signs.  So, municipalities can still limit the size of signs, although such requirements would need to be both reasonable in scope and applied with general uniformity.  However, the time restrictions on political signs that many communities had enacted and enforced for years (i.e., limiting the placement of campaign signs both before and after the election) are no longer enforceable.  So, if somebody wants to keep their “Elect Nixon!” sign up on their private property for 50 years, a municipality cannot require that it be taken down. 

With respect to the regulation of political signs on governmental property, a municipality can still regulate or prohibit political signs on their own property. However, there are also special considerations with respect to political signs on election day, if there is a polling place on your governmental property. Section 17-29 of the Illinois Election Code allows electioneering beyond the campaign free zone, providing:
The area on polling place property beyond the campaign free zone, whether publicly or privately owned, is a public forum for the time that the polls are open on an election day.  At the request of election officers any publicly owned building must be made available for use as a polling place. A person shall have the right to congregate and engage in electioneering on any polling place. property while the polls are open beyond the campaign free zone, including but not limited to, the placement of temporary signs.  This subsection shall be construed liberally in favor of persons engaging in electioneering on all polling place property beyond the campaign free zone for the time that the polls are open on an election day.  10 ILCS 17-29 (b).  
The campaign free zone is an area within 100 feet of the entrances to any room that is used as a polling place on election day and can in some cases, be extended further.  10 ILCS 17-29(c) provides that the regulation of electioneering on polling place property on an election day, including but not limited to the placement of temporary signs, is an exclusive power and function of the State.  Neither home rule nor non-hone rule communities, or any other governmental bodies can regulate signs on their property contrary to those statutes.  
Regular blog readers know that the U.S. Supreme Court recently heard oral argument in Reed v. Gilbert, a case involving the enforcement of a municipality's temporary sign regulations.  While that case did not involve political signs, the issue of whether a municipality can treat political signs differently (more preferentially) than other temporary signs may be addressed in the Court's decision in this case, so stay tuned. 

Post Authored by Stewart Diamond and Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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