A dispute has arisen between electioneers and the University of Maryland over whether campaign signs can be placed on a polling center on university property.
The night before Election Day, it is common practice for campaigners to go out in trucks and vans and remove the large campaign signs that have been erected in the area. Once the signs are collected, they are placed at polling locations around town, ready to greet voters throughout the day.
The first voters had just begun to trickle in to Ritchie Coliseum when an employee from UMd.'s facilities department began removing the signs that lined the lawn beside the road. When campaigners scrambled over to ask him what he was doing, he said that the university did not allow campaign signs on the property.
Joe Cook, the facilities employee charged with removing the signs, said he was unsure of the specific policy, but knows that the rule against campaign signs has always existed. He said that typically the university asks campaigners to remove their signs, and if no one is on hand to do so, the facilities department removes the signs themselves. However, Cook began removing signs without mention to the campaigners, who immediately rushed over when they saw the signs being collected.
Some conversation ensued, and Councilman Bob Catlin (Dist. 2) began making calls to Sen. Jim Rosapepe, a former regent at UMd. Cook stalled his work to allow the campaigners to get more information on the policies, but said that removing signs was a yearly event at the polls on campus.
"Every year, somebody puts political signs up, and every year we remove them," he said. "This is not a public area. It belongs to the University of Maryland."
Richard Biffl, who like Catlin is campaigning for Rosapepe and the rest of the District 21 team, said he had no idea the signs were a problem. He said he had never heard of a polling site not allowing political signs.
"I think somebody at the university doesn't understand the rules or doesn't understand that there needs to be an exception to the general policy on Election Day," he said. "This is a First Amendment issue. We're keeping 100 feet away from the polling place. We're following the rules. They need to understand that we're allowed to be out here."
As of 9:30 a.m., the signs were still in place. If they were to be removed, however, the District 21 team was already prepared with a backup plan.
"Maybe we'll chalk the parking lot instead," Catlin joked.
Check back with Patch later in the day for a more detailed report of the rules surrounding campaign signs on campus.