Monitors of municipal police logs will note that reports of stolen political signs come each year with the changing leaf colors and brisk autumn breezes.
Candidates report missing signs. Advocates for one side of a referendum question or the other will say their signs have been stolen or vandalized.
It’s easy to assume that in cases of stolen or defaced signs, the culprit is a political opponent. But in Brewer, one city council candidate is begging his supporters to stop taking his signs from public spaces.
Matt Vachon, who’s running for city council against Larry Doughty and Jerry Goss, said he’s sure it’s friends, not foes, who are stealing his signs as souvenirs. After all, when he unsuccessfully ran for council last year, some friends told him they had done it.
“Both candidates I’m running against, there’s no negativity or hostility between us,” he said Monday. “There’s nothing dirty going on. … It’s people who know me and say, ‘We like Matt,’ and they want to keep a sign to save.”
Vachon recently took to Facebook to lightheartedly plead with his friends and supporters.
“I realize I’m really really cool and all that but those signs cost me a good amount of money,” Vachon told his friends on Facebook in an Oct. 14 post. “Taking one of my signs before the election does not help me out at all. If you’re a friend who [has taken] one, be a real friend and leave it alone.”
Vachon said the signs cost about $5 each. Last year, he said, he had about a dozen signs stolen. He said he thinks its great that friends and acquaintances want a campaign keepsake, but said signs don’t do him any good if they’re not in public.
This year, he’s already missing a handful, and he expects to see more disappear as election day draws near, especially as prank-happy teens hit the streets on Oct. 31.
“The big thing is, Halloween is coming up,” he said. “I was told last year by people who had run before that on Halloween it doesn’t hurt to drive around and keep an eye on your signs.”
It may seem like a harmless prank, but in Maine, stealing a legally placed political sign is a civil violation that carries a $250 fine. Two years ago, a State House candidate from Mapleton reported 135 signs stolen during campaign season. This year, in July, a Montville man said someone had destroyed several wooden signs he’d built to express a variety of liberal causes.
Lt. Harold Page of the Ellsworth Police Department said Monday that political sign theft is more common during presidential election years. He said police will sometimes find stockpiles of stolen signs thrown in gravel pits or on back roads in the woods. The culprits are rarely caught, he said.
He said a handful of reports already have trickled in, and suspected more will come.
“We’ve got a ways to go yet until the election, so I suspect it’ll pick up,” Page said.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.