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'Tis the season for campaign sign shenanigans

It's been an unusual year in some ways, but 2020 is status quo when it comes to campaign sign shenanigans.

Like clockwork each election season, political signs disappear from lawns or pop up in inappropriate places, such as the Trump/Pence banners somebody hung over a speed limit sign and draped on nearby bushes earlier this week along the embankment of Interstate 95 south in Old Lyme.

"It would be abnormal for us not to encounter this issue," said Kevin Nursick, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, by phone Thursday afternoon. Illegal signs pop up year round, but it's more of an issue during campaign season, he said.

Nursick had not heard about the signs in Old Lyme, but said any non-DOT signs are prohibited on the state-owned rights of way adjacent to highways, driving surfaces and state routes. Those strips of land on either side of the state's paved surfaces are reserved only for transportation purposes, including traffic signs.

"It's obviously important for people to count on that right of way for tools they need to drive safely," Nursick said.

It's also illegal and hazardous to stop along the highway, except for emergencies.

Karen Mohr of Mystic called The Day after seeing the Trump/Pence flags while driving near Exit 70 on Wednesday afternoon. She said by phone Thursday that she saw a lot of out-of-state license plates on that stretch of highway, where the speed limit changes several times and accidents occur regularly.

"It's just one more thing in the panoply of unsafe things," Mohr said. "It's reckless and it's needlessly reckless. I wouldn't want my kids or my grandkids going down that road not knowing what the speed limit was."

The signs were removed from the highway on Thursday afternoon.

DOT doesn't go out daily to look for signs that are illegally placed along the rights of way, and typically removes them as priorities and resources allow, according to Nursick. Highway crews will remove them immediately if there is a safety concern, such as those that obstruct a view, or "sight line," for drivers trying to exit from a street.

And it doesn't matter who or what the signs are endorsing, Nursick said.

"We don't get involved with the content of any of this," he said. "We don't want to know about it. We want to be apolitical. The signs aren't supposed to be there in the first place."

DOT's legislative office sends a note to the state's political caucuses every election cycle to remind them that highway rights of way are off limits, Nursick said.

Candidates often complain about their signs being stolen by their opponents, and this year the buzz has been that it's happening to Democrats in New London, according to City Mayor Michael Passero, who is grateful he's not campaigning this year. His own Biden sign has been in his yard "unmolested" for a couple of weeks, Passero said.

He said signs have to be put on private property, and that he, and city staff, remove signs in the public right of way, whether they be advertising or political.

New London Democrat Martha Marx, who is challenging incumbent Republican state Sen. Paul Formica for the 20th District seat, said she heard about signs disappearing in the area, but it's not something that would cause her to lose sleep.

"It's campaign season," Marx said. "This kind of thing happens. Don't let it distract you from what is really important, which is getting the votes out."

Formica, who was elected to the Senate in 2015 and held offices in East Lyme for many years, said he's getting pretty good at the art of campaign signs as he enters his 30th year as an elected official.

"I've not had any experiences with signs being taken or moved or put in the wrong place," he said.

One resident of New London posted a sign with a warning note, seemingly addressed to Republicans, on her Facebook page of a Biden for President lawn sign.

"If you remove this sign, I will make a $36 donation to Planned Parenthood, and I will replace the sign which means, in fact, YOU are supporting the Biden/Harris campaign. Think about it!!" says the note on neon pink paper, encased in a Ziploc bag that is attached to the sign.

k.florin@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects the location of a Biden for President sign with a warning note attached.

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