BUSINESS LAW 101 / Campaign Signs

By Albert L. Kelley, Esq.

Since we are in the middle of election season, it is a good time to look at some election laws. We start with the most obvious campaign indicator, the campaign sign. Campaign signs are not governed by federal or state laws. Well, not much.  There are a couple of state laws that must be followed.  Candidates cannot use the word “Re-elect” if they are not the current incumbent. All campaign signs must have a disclosure printed on the signs stating that the ad was paid for by the candidate or their campaign.    The sign must also have the word “for” between the candidate’s name and the office they are running for.  Aside from that, there are few state issues to be concerned with.

The reality is that most election sign laws are issued on the local level.  Local governments make determinations as to when signs can be posted, how large they can be, and when they must be taken down. For Monroe County, this means there are five sets of laws that all candidates must become familiar with: Key West, Marathon, Key Colony Beach, Islamorada and Monroe County.  Let’s start with when signs can be posted. Key West and Layton have no set time frames for when signs can go up.  In Monroe County, signs can be posted 180 days before the election. So, for the primary (August 23) signs can go up as early as February 24 or for campaigns that will be decided at the general election (November 8), signs can go up on May 12. In Marathon, the first date is 60 days before the election, or June 24 for the primary and September 9 for the general. Key Colony Beach and Islamorada both limit the first day to 30 days before the election, or July 24 for the primary and October 9 for the general election.

Similarly, each location has different size limits.  Key West and Layton have no limits (although Layton generally follows the county rules). Key Colony Beach limits the signs to 4 square feet (2×2).  Monroe County limits signs to 12 square feet per property.  In Marathon and Islamorada the signs are limited to 12 square feet for commercial property and six square feet for residential property. 

By statute, all candidates must make a good faith effort to remove their signs within 30 days of their race ending.  Local rules may change this. In some cases, the signs must be removed within 7 days and in the strictest rule (Key Colony Beach) they must be removed in 48 hours.  If a sign is not removed before the deadline, the government may remove the sign and charge the candidate for it.

There are also rules for where signs can be posted.  No candidate or campaign may post a sign on private property without the consent of the property owner.  This seems like a commonsense issue, however, some candidates fail to research the property where their signs are placed, and post on private property believing it is public land. Even on public property the placement of signs is limited.  Signs cannot be placed on the Florida Department of Transportation right of way.  This generally encompasses several feet on each side of US Highway 1.  Any signs that encroach on the right of way can be seized by the Department and stored for the candidate to claim.  By statute, the signs also cannot be placed on any public right of way.  The local governments reserve right of ways on the shoulders of various roads for utility and improvement purposes. A recent visit to the Marathon City Hall found well over a dozen political signs that had been removed from the City right of way.

Usually when a candidate runs afoul of one of these rules it is an innocent mistake, but others may ignore the rules figuring the worst that will happen is their sign will be picked up by the government and then returned to the candidate.

Al Kelley has worked as an attorney in Monroe County for the last 32 years. He is the author of five law books available through Absolutely Amazing E-Books and the host of “Basics Of The Law”, a legal YouTube channel. He serves as the Vice Chair of the 16th Judicial Circuit Professionalism Panel.  He also previously taught business law, personnel law, and labor law at St. Leo University. This article is offered as a public service and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. If you have any questions about legal issues, you should confer with a licensed Florida attorney.

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