Are there really rules for yard signs? The short answer is yes. The long answer: Political yard signs rules not only vary but also differ from state to state (and often from town to town!). Knowing which yard sign rules apply to your campaign, then, is ultra important. For example, candidates in Ohio have different yard sign rules than candidates in Wisconsin. Getting even more granular, Madison, WI, might also have a different set of regulations than Milwaukee.
Limitations also exist for what kinds of rules can be placed on yard signs. Yep, there’s rules for the rules. But don’t worry—this quick guide will help you learn the ins and outs of political yard sign rules in your area. Let’s start with federal laws on yard signs to determine what kinds of rules are constitutional and which are not.
Federal Laws on Political Yard Signs
Very few rules exist for yard signs in general. In 1994, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that municipal yard sign laws could regulate the placement of signs, but the signs themselves were protected by free speech. The court’s reasoning was that yard signs were cheap and accessible, which allowed people to communicate within their communities in a unique way not offered by other mediums.
The ruling determined that fully prohibiting yard signs, especially on private property, was unconstitutional. However, some regulations were allowed to reduce litter and maintain traffic visibility.
On a federal level, political yard signs rules are simple:
- No signs can be placed within 660 feet of an interstate or highway (including on/off ramps)
- Federal candidates must disclose, directly on their signs, who paid for the signs.
An interesting exception
While governments can’t prohibit yard signs on private property, many homeowner associations can do so. Supreme Courts at both the federal and state levels have revisited this issue repeatedly since 1948. Generally, the consensus is that condo and homeowner associations aren’t government entities, so they aren’t required to protect free speech.
Most restrictions on yard signs seek to achieve a few common goals. Let’s break down what those laws might look like at the local level.
Local Political Yard Signs Rules
Most yard sign rules are set by state and municipal governments. Rules regulating yard signs of any kind are likely to have similar goals:
- To regulate the size of signs
- To prevent litter or clutter in public spaces
- To prevent traffic hazards
- To protect free speech
Yard sign rules specifically for political signs have a few additional goals:
- To ensure proper disclosures of funding
- To dictate when signs can be displayed and removed in relation to election cycles
- To provide “campaign-free zones” in areas such as polling places
Most political yard sign rules set with these goals in mind follow the same major themes:
- Design restrictions
- No blinking/flashing lights
- No signs may look like traffic lights or road signs
- Signs may not give directions or direct traffic in any way
- Signs can’t be tattered, faded, or otherwise unsightly
- Placement restrictions
- Signs can’t be placed on private land without the owner’s permission
- Signs aren’t allowed near polling stations
- Some public rights-of-way (areas directly surrounding public roadways) are off limits to prevent traffic hazards
- Some rights-of-way may be designated for yard signs to be displayed, such as large medians, shoulders, and roundabouts
- Federal law prohibits political yard signs within 660 feet of any interstate or freeway
Some variations also exist. To start, restrictions for when signs may be displayed and for how long they can stay after election day are often in place. Some states will also charge fees or fines to campaigns for the removal of signs that are faded, torn, or improperly placed. Such fines can even apply when signs are left in place for too long after an election.
In some states, removing political yard signs that have been properly placed and fall within the time limits allowed by that election cycle is even a misdemeanor (to help protect free speech).
Your city or town website will also likely have the information you need. For instance, if you were from Bowling Green, Kentucky, you’d find campaign sign rules under the City Policies tab on the city website. Below is a screenshot from the Bowling Green municipal website. The highlighted quick links, as shown in the screenshot, are where you’d find the town’s policies on political yard signs.
Want to Learn More?
Now you know what kinds of political yard signs rules exist and how to find the specific rules for your area. Still have other questions about yard signs, or think they could be a good part of your overall campaign strategy? Check out our other blog: Everything You Need to Know About Yard Signs. There, you’ll learn how to get signs and whether they actually persuade voters.