The innocent looking yard signs scattered through town promoting local candidates may not be so innocent after all. The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office reported that it received an inquiry about local election signs being out of compliance with state regulations. The majority of candidates running in Londonderry did not have all of the state mandated information on their yard signs, prompting a mad dash to update them in time to adhere to the request made by the attorney general’s office.
According to RSA 664:14, which dictates the rules around political advertising, “in the case of printed or written matter, the signature and address of signer shall be printed or written in a size of type or lettering large enough to be clearly legible.” This means that the name and address (or campaign website) of the person who paid for the sign needs to be clearly printed and visible. That person doesn’t need to be the candidate, but in small town elections, it usually is.
Town Moderator Bob Saur said he received a call from the attorney general’s office only last week about the issue.
“I was made aware last Friday by the attorney general’s office” that the signs were not in compliance, said Saur. More specifically, the signs of one person in particular.
Richard Tracy, an investigator for the attorney general’s office, reported that School Board Moderator Cindi Rice Conley called in to inquire about the regulation. Tracy followed by saying the “initial complaint was against Martha Smith running for town clerk.”
Smith’s ads were not following the law by omitting her name and address as the person who paid for the signs.
“As I began to look into this, I saw Ms. Smith was not the only one who did not have proper information on her sign,” said Tracy. He also contacted Luisa Piette, who is running for town moderator, and Sherry Farrell, running for re-election as town clerk, about their signs being out of compliance as well.
“I don’t think anyone in the past has put their names and addresses on their signs,” said Saur.
He could not recall this being an issue in Londonderry in the last 30 or so years, so he took it on himself to drive around town and see just how many of the candidates were not in accordance with the law. He said that out of all the signs around town, only one candidate had all of the proper information, but he declined to identify who.
Saur contacted all of the candidates and told them they had three days to update their signs with names and addresses. According to Saur, one school board candidate put stickers on his signs with his name and address and cheekily added “but you already knew that” to drive home a point Saur made that “this isn’t a big town. It’s easy to find people.”
“I’m really disappointed that this is what our town politics is focused on,” said Saur.
Smith declined to comment, but Tammy Siekmann said Smith was very upset by the situation.
“The AG’s people called Martha, she called me and she asked me what to do,” said Siekmann. “I called Bob Saur and he took care of it.”
Saur explained that when the candidates register with the town clerk, they are given a memo explaining where they can put their signs, but the information about the names and addresses is not in the memo. When asked why, Saur replied that “it’s never been an issue before.” He said the candidates are supposed to educate themselves on the rules and regulations regarding the election, but “they aren’t experts on election law.”
“Never in the past have we included” information about RSA 664:14, said Saur.
He even went to the local print shops who created the ads for the candidates and asked if they were aware of the regulation. The ones he spoke to did not know the law applied to local town elections.
One of the things that upset Saur was the fact that so many of the candidates’ signs are out of compliance, but only Smith’s was brought up to the attorney general’s office. Saur said he would understand “if a complaint had been filed calling out multiple candidates,” instead of only one.
“I don’t understand the motivation behind filing a complaint against one candidate when multiple candidates are involved,” said Saur. “It’s all about equity.”
Making sure that all of the candidates were aware of the rules and the deadlines was of the utmost importance to Saur. He said “every candidate deserves a fair election.”
“I feel embarrassed for Londonderry that we wasted the attorney general’s time with this, especially because it was a selective complaint,” said Saur. “I hope the town can return to a more equitable state.”