By Elsa Maxey
Many people are aware that there are political sign posting ordinances in their cities that specify sign sizes, their location, and earliest time placement among other requirements.
In Stafford just the other day, whether political signs could be posted at city hall, a voting site, became an issue. A city resident said he put up a sign at city hall for the upcoming election last week meeting the election code distance requirements when early voting was underway. He said that it was then taken down by the city.
“There was some confusion between my office and the polling rules,” said City Code Enforcement Officer Scott McElrath, who acknowledged that he took the sign down and later put it back up, where it now is on 2610 South Main. The resident who placed the sign, Martin Saldua, is also a board member of Fort Bend WCID No. 2, which is holding a bond referendum this Saturday. He said the city had been critical of the water district for not having joint elections and now that the water district opted to do it, the sign removal about its bond election was the result.
“It was the sign department that was involved in it,” said Bonnie Biamonte, City Secretary, “and there was some question about whether it would be allowed there or not and as long as they are behind the distance marker and not in the right of way during early voting. They are allowed since we are a polling place.”
Fort Bend Elections Administrator John Oldham was consulted along the way. Oldham confirmed that he was called by both Saldua and Victor Linares, another Stafford resident and former city councilmember. Linares also wanted to put up signs at city hall for a school board candidate, the school’s bond referendum and one for the water district and understood that was not allowable in light of Saldua’s experience, he said. “I have an empty lot,” and political signs on that property, he said. On Monday, Linares said McElrath told him, “You all can put up signs.”
Oldham said he spoke to Stafford’s City Secretary. “I know that there was some misunderstanding down there about what electioneering was allowed and what wasn’t,” said Oldham indicating that he had received calls from “a couple of people who felt that they weren’t being treated fairly.” On Monday morning, he said, “within a half hour everything was fine.”
Oldham said the state statue is not real clear and it does not address signs “per se“ on polling places “and doesn’t really define what electioneering is,” but he said that from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, there is an implied right to do it.
Restrictions can be placed, like on right of ways in accordance with Texas laws “and some municipalities have ordinances, like Missouri City limits size and location of signs and Meadows Place limits location and quantity.”
Earlier in the week, Oldham said a local school asked for his opinion about a candidate who put up a sign 10 days before the election. “The site is not a polling place 10 days before the election,” he said noting that it is the school’s decision, and “we don’t enforce sign ordinances.”