Cities in Mississippi better check local election sign laws. It's likely many are illegal.
“It’s election season in Mississippi, so a lot of folks are wondering about when and where they can place their campaign signs,” says Shadrack White, Director of the Mississippi Justice Institute.
White says many Mississippi municipalities probably have unconstitutional codes. “The truth is, if your town has a rule about ‘political signs,’ those rules are unconstitutional and should be changed."
Among other reasons, powerful candidates already in office may use illegal local codes to counter opponents' signage and boost their own efforts.
Says White, “If the wrong person obtains power, regulations ... can be used to silence critics and advance the agenda of the powerful. This has happened in other cities, like Norfolk, Virginia, where a mayor used a sign code to quiet a citizen who opposed him. To prevent against that, sign codes should treat all kinds of speech equally.”
White's comments were issued yesterday in a release by The Mississippi Municipal League (MML) and White's Mississippi Justice Institute (MJI). The release seeks to offer "technical guidance" to state municipalities.
Other sorts of abuse might occur.
For instance, one kind of sign--say, for a private business--might be allowed in a certain spot in favor of an equally legal political candidate's sign. That's a violation of free speech.
Says White, "Government regulations that privilege one kind of speech over another are dangerous."
“The important thing is to avoid regulations that reference the words on the sign," states White. "A yard sign for Joe’s Local Butcher Shop would be just as much of an eyesore as a yard sign saying ‘Joe for Mayor,’ so you cannot treat these signs differently.”
So would Greenville, Mississippi's current sign ordinance be suspect. It reads
One Greenville resident has been wanting to place a yard sign for her candidate but is afraid she might run afoul of Greenville's vague, potentially unconstitutional regulations.
"I have been waiting to put a ... sign in our yard, but if I had they would pull it," she told Mississippi Corruption, a website that monitors waste, fraud and abuse in Mississippi.
It's all a matter of offering cities clarity on the issues, says White.
He says. “My father is a small-town Mississippi mayor. I know most municipal leaders want the best for their towns and are too busy responding to the everyday needs of their citizens to read every Supreme Court opinion that comes down the pike. That’s why the technical guidance ... is so valuable.”
POLITICAL SIGN PHOTO: DENVER POST