Architectural engineering sophomore Cypress Lefebre has a political sign up on her lawn in North Campus, a holdover from the midterm election just last week. A drive through Austin’s residential streets will reveal dozens of other campaign signs still mounted in private yards.
If these signs are not gone by Friday, Texans may have to reckon with their local homeowners’ association, which has authority from the state to ask residents to remove campaign signage 10 days after an election. The Texas Ethics Commission has this rule in place to promote fair elections and prevent conflict between residents, said Chris Bishop, a Texas Department of Transportation public information officer.
“I would have an issue with taking away my yard signs or even them asking me to remove it,” Lefebre said. “I don’t think it should be enforced. If you want to continue to express your support for a person, you should be able to.”
Bishop said TxDOT has the authority to remove campaign signage on state-owned property, such as along roads or on telephone poles. Signs on private property are under different jurisdiction, he said.
“I can’t tell you who’s going to be enforcing that,” Bishop said. “It would really just depend on how aggravated someone gets at campaign signs remaining in place. A homeowners’ association could include that in their bylaws, but it’s up to them to enforce it.”
Official political advertising from the candidates themselves is regulated by the Texas Ethics Commission, Bishop said.
“Realistically, people need to understand that the election is over,” Bishop said. “If you want to keep your campaign signs, put them up in your living room.”
Ted Siff is the president of the Old Austin Neighborhood Association, which covers many of downtown’s residential streets but not West Campus. Siff said neighborhood associations are different from homeowners’ associations, and do not have the legal right to ask people to remove signs even if they cause a dispute among residents. Homeowners’ associations are typically more prevalent in suburban housing developments and are state regulated.
If nobody complains about signage, Siff said he does not understand homeowners’ associations pushing for their removal and considers it a violation of free speech.
“I would encourage everyone to just calm down a little bit,” Siff said. “If I were a homeowners’ association, I would not enforce a law that said I could go on a neighbor’s private property to take down their political sign. I think that law borders on unconstitutional.”
Saamia Imtiaz interned for the Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke and said his campaign signs, many of which still remain in Austin yards, were a major political tool.
“Campaign signs are the biggest way you can get name recognition for a candidate,” said Imtiaz, international relations and Plan II sophomore. “When people see signs, they ask questions about it. It’s a really important part of the process.”
Imtiaz said she and others who worked on O’Rourke’s campaign are encouraging people who want to keep their Beto signs up to hide the words “for Senate” on them, which makes them a non-campaign sign. However, this is not an official policy from O’Rourke’s campaign, Imtiaz said.
“It’s them showing support for an idea, for the person behind the campaign,” Imtiaz said. “I don’t think it’s fair to make people take them down.”