NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Candidates across the Cape Fear region are preparing for the upcoming primary election in March, but it turns out that it is possible to start campaigning too early.
According to North Carolina state law, political signs should not be placed along public roadways until 30 days prior to the start of one-stop or early voting.
In this case, that date would be Jan. 14 ahead of the early voting period for the March 3 primary, but signs for a handful of candidates began appearing at least a week ahead of that date.
WECT staff noticed the signs popping up around New Hanover County, and officials at the county board of elections reported they had received questions and concerns about the signs being out so early.
“If I would have known I would never have put them out,” said register of deeds candidate Kimberly Phillips, whose signs could be seen at the intersection of Military Cutoff Road and Eastwood Road.
Phillips said she saw a sign from her competitor near the location, so she assumed it was acceptable to do the same.
“I own it, you know, I take responsibility. I probably should’ve had maybe done some investigation, but since I saw another sign I just thought it was OK,” she said.
WECT found signs Friday for two other campaigns, that of county commission candidate Don Betz, and judicial candidate Richard Kern.
Kern’s campaign manager Paige Freeman said they had not placed signs along roadways, but recently began giving campaign materials to supporters to place on private property. She noted while supporters may have taken signs for private property, they may have placed them along public roads without telling the campaign.
Betz said he was under the impression the rule was 45 days
The state statute does not regulate political signs on private property, just on public roads. Municipalities can have their own restrictions, but if they don’t, the state statute still remains in effect.
Enforcement of the sign statute is left up to municipalities or NCDOT, explained board of elections director Rae Hunter-Havens, though she said if someone complains, they try to reach out to candidates to let them know.
The state statute states those who unlawfully erect signs, political or otherwise, could be subject to a Class 1 misdemeanor charge.
Phillips said when she was made aware her signs were out about a week too soon, she reached out to the city of Wilmington for guidance. The code enforcement office reportedly told her not to worry about picking the signs back up, given they would only be in violation of the ordinance for a few more days.
“I specifically asked if I needed to go and pick them up and I was more than happy then go around and pick them back up,” she said. “I would do whatever they wanted me to do because I honestly, I just didn’t realize.”
The state statute also requires campaign signs be picked up within 10 days of Election Day.
Absentee by mail voting begins Monday, Jan. 13, and the early voting period in New Hanover County begins Thursday, Feb. 13 at 8 a.m.