‘Rudy, for the love of Ridgefield.’ ‘Dick Moccia.’ ‘Vote Line A.’ ‘Katz P&Z.’

Signs touting candidates, pushing party choices, blossomed on Ridgefield’s roadsides this fall — thousands of them, according to party activists.

This profusion of political cheerleading, with election signs popping up at every corner and straightaway, didn’t go down well with everyone.

“Thank all for your service, but ... Are these really necessary?” Wayne Addessi wrote in an email that included photos of intersections cluttered with election signs.

“Driving distraction?” added Addessi, a Main Street businessman and landlord . “Nowadays with all the avenues in which to reach the voters. Maybe next election all sides can agree to do away with these roadside distractions and plan smarter and perhaps post one sign that reminds all when to vote?”

Chris McQuilkin, a Ridgefielder who’s been active on a variety of issues, was so struck by the number of signs outside the District Three polling place that he decided to count them.

“Yes, my wife and I counted the signs at Yanity after we voted. 292 in total,” McQuilkin said. “I’ve never seen so many lining the parking lot. They were everywhere. I don’t think they could have fit any more.”

Inquiries with party leaders suggest there were 3,000 or more political signs posted around Ridgefield for this year’s election — 2,000 or more Republican signs, and more than 1,100 Democratic signs.

“DTC made a decision to go heavier on signs this year than in past years, although we do not view them as ‘persuaders,’” said Democratic Town Committee chairman Alex Harris. “...DTC purchased nine different signs, one for every board team (BOS, BOF, BOE, BPC, IWB, P&Z, ZBA, and BAA) plus a “Vote Line A” sign.”

In addition, two Democratic incumbents, First Selectman Rudy Marconi and Town Treasurer Molly McGeehin, acquired and put out their own signs.

“...So 11 Democratic signs in all,” Harris said. “We probably placed about 100 of each.”

That’s 1,100 signs for Democrats.

Republican Town Committee treasurer Bob Cascella thought the RTC had put out more signs than in past years’ municipal races.

“Two thousand plus,” he said, “...as there was a race for the top of the ticket and the Board of Selectmen. I think we had more signs up. We had signs for at least 10 races.”

No regulation

The town has plenty of regulations governing various aspects of commercial signs that businesses put up, or even tag sale signs and signs for “nonprofit community events” — size, height, the number of signs for a given business.

But election signs float blissfully beyond the reach of rules that apply to other signs, according to Planning and Zoning Director Richard Baldelli.

“Temporary political signs are permitted in any zone,” Baldelli said. “No zoning permit is required for a temporary political sign. There is no maximum number of signs limitations. There is no maximum sign size or area limitations.”

This may reflect a legal tradition in which the election signs qualify as “political speech,” due the strongest protections available under the First Amendment — more than is given to the business signs sometimes deemed “commercial speech.”

Constitutionally, “Vote for me, I’ll set you free” trumps “Eat at Joe’s, where all the prices are lows.”

Effective?

How the election signs work or whether they work are open questions.

“I’m not sure signs serve the intended purpose of swaying an on-the-fence voter. Instead, seems the real reason for putting a sign on your lawn is to annoy the guy down the block who has a sign for an opposing candidate,” said McQuilkin, who counted the signs at Yanity.

“...On the plus side, I think signs do raise awareness about an upcoming election,” he said. “With signs on every corner, hard to miss the fact that residents will soon have a chance to vote. This is good.”

This lines up with what folks on the two town committees said.

“... Research data indicates that signs have little to no measurable impact on voter preferences,” said Harris, the Democratic chairman. “Signs may boost the enthusiasm of voters who already support a candidate/candidate team, thereby increasing those voters’ likelihood of turning out to vote on Election Day. So, we look at signs primarily as a boost to our get-out-the-vote efforts.”

Cascella, of the RTC, had a similar outlook. “To a certain extent, they make people aware there is an election coming up, and with name recognition,” he said.

Joseph Heyman, who in the past has run for numerous positions in town — successfully for Board of Selectmen and Planning and Zoning Commission, unsuccessfully for state representative — helped put out signs for the Democrats this year.

“You have to get permission from the landowners to put up lawn signs,” he said.

But he wasn’t so sure they’d changed many votes.

“I really respect the people who are running, and I feel the signs are almost meaningless, but they’re a nice ego boost for the people running,” Heyman said.

With the proliferation of signs — particularly at spots like polling places — a repetition tactic was used to help get the message through, according to Heyman.

“There were so many lawn signs, so many people— it becomes a blur,” Heyman said. “What we started doing is putting up the same sign — Rudy, Rudy, Rudy.”

Cluttered gateways

This profusion of the signs, all over town and in high visibility spots, was a big part of what annoyed Addessi, who with a business and commercial property in the village is sensitive to the town’s image and appearance.

“... Driving in Newtown, Danbury, New Fairfield in ‘gateway’ areas, I see little to nearly none,” he said of the signs. “Nowhere near what’s occurred here.

“Newtown, there is nothing like this. Barely a sign anywhere, it appears.”

In response to the Press, he outlined his concerns:

“1. Far too many,” Addessi said.

“2. Unnecessary to the extent.

“3. Too many locations where signs are located.

“4. Driver distraction. A huge distraction. Especially to younger drivers. Maybe others too. Seniors?

“5. Effectiveness? One sign overlays or blocks another.

“6. Are they necessary? Really?”

McQuilkin raised similar concerns.

“This year for the first time I saw very large signs. These could be dangerous — blocking the view of oncoming traffic, or causing a distraction for drivers,” he said.

McQuilkin wondered if the proliferation of signs “should be a topic of discussion” for the Board of Selectmen

Sign requests

Generally, there are two ways signs get put up: People request signs for a candidate or candidates they like, and put them in their own yards to show support; And parties or campaigns also approach people about putting signs on their properties, especially in highly visible locations.

“It’s about a 50-50 split, of those requesting a sign be put up, and our outreach for locations,” Cascella said. “Signs are always available at our headquarters. We get a lot of requests when people stop in.”

The Democrats, too, use both approaches.

“We maintain a list of people who request signs every year,” Harris said, “and we call them at the beginning of the season to ask if they want signs this year (and if we are slow in calling, they typically call us). Additionally, each year we get requests from new people asking for signs.

“Finally, after we have satisfied all the demand by requests, we may contact known Democrats in visible spots to ask if they will permit our signs on their lawns,” Harris said.

“We are adamant about not putting signs anywhere without permission or request,” he added.

“However, we seem to have had a few instances where people requested signs, then installed them at locations they don’t own. Not something we condone.”

Polling places

The practice of putting a multitude of signs outside polling places gets mixed reviews.

“Personally, I find it ridiculous,” said the RTC’s Cascella. “People have made up their mind by then. It’s really unattractive.”

“Polling place decoration with signs is a tradition,” said Harris, the Democratic chairman. “It creates a festive atmosphere at the polling places, many voters expect to see signs for their preferred candidates when they vote, and often express dismay if they feel that signs for their preferred candidates are underrepresented at the polling place.

“I honestly don’t know what, if any, impact polling place signs have,” Harris said, “but they are temporary, harmless, add a festive aura, and don’t create incremental waste since we redeploy signs from people’s lawns to the polling places the night before election.

“Superstition may also play a role in sustaining the tradition,” he added.

The takedown

Leaders of both parties say that taking the signs down is part of their routine.

“We have a few people who volunteer to get most of them,” Cascella said of the Republican committee. “Unfortunately, there are always a few that get missed. It’s the candidates’ job to get those that are missed by the initial sweep.”

Harris said the Democrats are meticulous in retrieving their signs.

“We record locations of every sign we place or give out,” he said. “Immediately after the polls close, we remove signs from the polling places.

“The day after election, our teams go out and pick up signs from all the locations we have recorded. If they see our signs anywhere, they take them down,” he said. “Occasionally, we miss a location, but retrieve immediately upon becoming aware.

“If a candidate expects to run again, and the sign is designed for reuse, the candidate or DTC will retain,” Harris said. “But many team signs are useful only once, because the team members are running for different length terms.”

Complaints

Do the parties get complaints about the signs?

“We did not hear specific complaints about numbers of signs this year,” said Harris. “We actually received sign requests up to Election Day.

“We try our utmost to minimize complaints and annoyance, by waiting to deploy signs in mid-, late October. A few trickle out before then (usually the candidates, their family members or close friends), but we are fairly strict about waiting until late in the campaign to display in quantity.”

The Republicans had signs out earlier than the Democrats this year — perhaps because their top-of-the-ticket candidate, Dick Moccia, was less well known than the longtime Democratic incumbent, Rudy Marconi.

Cascella said there were complaints.

“Yes, I heard from a number of people that the signs went up way to early this year,” he said, “and the signs at the polling places was out of control.”

Even some skeptics may see the signs have a positive side — as the roadside window dressing of a town with a vibrant democracy.

“Should signs be banned?” mused McQuilkin, who was so taken aback he’d counted the 292 of them outside the Yanity polling place. “No, probably not. I like the idea that signs are protected speech, but maybe candidates could voluntarily tone it down a little.”