Mounting/Installing Political Campaign Signs

By Gary Marbut

This will be, hopefully, a short primer about how to deploy campaign signs in Montana.

Legal Issues

Most cities in Montana have sign ordinances that usually prohibits campaign signs larger than 4' X 5'.  Check local ordinances before installing 4' X 8' signs inside city limits.  There is usually an EXCEPTION in the ordinance for vehicle-mounted signs.  Otherwise every Coca Cola delivery truck, and a gazillion others, would require a sign permit.  So, some people have mounted 4' X 8' signs in the back of pickups to display in places that prohibit larger than 4' X 5', ground-mounted signs.  An additional benefit is that these mobile signs can be moved now and then to other choice locations.

Truk

Some cities prohibit political sign placement in the "boulevard," that strip of grass (or snow now) between the sidewalk and the street.  So, again, check local ordinances.

Outside of city limits, the Montana Department of Transportation prohibits signs in highway right-of-ways.  Usually (but not always), the fence bordering a highway demarks the edge of the right-of-way.  Usually, a sign may be attached to the highway side of a fence.  The highway maintenance authorities get a bit more persnickety about signs on fences along Interstate highways.  If your sign placement infringes on the highway right-of-way, the Highway Department will send out a crew to collect the signs, which then get thrown in the trash, wasting valuable sign resources.

This MDT regulation also applies inside city limits, where a state-controlled roadways passes through a city.  Since a roadside fence may not exist in these urban locations, careful attention must be given to where the right-of-way ends and private property begins.  Usually the property owner will know where his property ends and the right-of-way begins, but not always.  Sometimes a difference of opinion exists between MDT and the roadside property owner, in which case the MDT crew will trash signs it believes are in the right-of-way and discuss the matter only when someone calls and presses the issue.

In order for a campaign sign to be located on private property requires the permission of the property owner.  Most property owners, if asked, will allow political sign placement along travel routes.  They are used to being asked.  Fortunately for your campaign, landowners able to give permission are more likely to be Republicans.

When looking for sign locations, it is recommended that the volunteer carry a clipboard with a permission form on the clipboard.  The top of the form should contain a blanket statement such as:  "We the undersigned agree to give the Xxxx Xxxxxx campaign permission to install a campaign sign at the location indicated."  Then, there should be columns for the person's PRINTED NAME, SIGN LOCATION/ADDRESS, and SIGNATURE.  Contact phone number and date would be good, too, but requires landscape printing of the form to provide enough space.

(Sample Form - MSWord/.doc file)

Don't forget to promise the landowner that you will return and collect any signs after the political season.  Your permission list will help you return to these locations to collect signs.  Leave your contact information with the landowner so the landowner can report any weather damage to signs or vandalism.

Disclaimer

The Commissioner of Political Practices Website declares:

Political candidates must include the name and complete mailing address of the candidate or the candidate’s campaign. Example: 
Paid for by Frank Smith
PO Box 292
Helena MT 59604
OR
Paid for by Smith for Senate
PO Box 292 Helena MT 59604
The candidate’s campaign treasurer may be included, but is not required.


And:

On yard signs, billboards and other similar materials, the disclaimer must be placed on the front of the materials, and must be large enough to be clear and conspicuous—e.g., 1/4 inch tall (24 point) letters on yard signs and 1/2 inch tall (48 point) letters on highway signs.


Physical Installation

This is being written in January of 2008.  We have had a week of intense cold in Montana.  Many political sign mounting strategies require being able to drive something into the ground.  The ground in Montana is now frozen solid - like pavement.  Also, many modern campaign signs are made from plastic, which gets brittle in the cold.  The points at which signs are attached to something is a weak point in the plastic sign that can easily break, tear or shatter in the cold.  Keep this in mind when mounting signs during cold weather, especially any signs subject to wind.

We definitely want to avoid signs becoming litter.  Littering is offensive to the landowner, wastes sign resources, and does not make the candidate look good.

Many modern campaign signs are made from a plastic material called "coroplast."  This is like corrugated cardboard, but made from plastic.  Coroplast has plusses and minuses.  On the plus side, it is relatively inexpensive, light to ship and handle, takes a colorful image well, and stands up to moisture.  On the minus side, plastic becomes brittle in cold (the colder the more brittle) and coroplast tends to fold along the ribs under wind load when not mounted on something more rigid, such as wafer board (OSB - Oriented Strand Board).  Both of these problems are reduced with smaller signs, such as yard signs.

Large Signs.

The task with large signs is to be able to mount them in a good, visible location, with affordable materials stout enough to hold and last the campaign cycle.  If a 4' X 8' coroplast sign can be mounted with rigid backing, such as on a building or on a rigid sheet such as wafer board, that backing will solve some problems, though it will increase installation expense.

The most affordable yet secure way to attach 4' X 8' coroplast signs to wafer board or particle board is with short drywall screws, washers and a cordless screw gun.  Washers on the drywall screws are important!  Without washers, wind may rip the sign off the screws.  Washers should be small so they don't detract from the sign, but large enough for the screw.  Get suitable washers from a hardware store.  When you screw a sign down to rigid backing, crank the screw far enough to pull the coroplast up snug to the backing but not so far you crush the coroplast.  Use a minimum of six screws (or more) per 4' X 8' sign, in the corners (1" away from each corner) and center, top and bottom.

For 4' X 8' coroplast signs not mounted on something rigid, they really need grommets to prevent wind load from ripping the coroplast off the attachments.  Tent and tarp businesses have grommeting machines.  Grommets may also be applied with hand-operated tools.  There should be a minimum of six grommets per sign, located as suggested above for screws, more if wind conditions may be extreme.

If you are mounting large signs flat on buildings, make sure your attachment method is OK with the building owner.  Attachment to buildings (or chain-link fencing) is MUCH simpler than erecting free-standing signs.

The best way to attach free-standing, grommeted coroplast signs is with plastic or nylon wire ties.  These are inexpensive and available from hardware or electrical supply stores.  Be sure to pull the wire tie up snug so the sign doesn't rattle in the wind, and clip the excess wire tie with dikes to make it look tidy.

How to build stands.  Stands for free-standing signs can be constructed from wood or metal.  Probably the simplest and most cost-effective mounting system is to use 1/2" rebar.  Rebar is metal rod with a corrugated surface that is used for strengthening poured concrete.  It is available in 20' pieces from metal supply and building supply stores.  You will need a way to cut this rebar into the lengths you need, either with large bolt-cutters or a metal-cutting saw.  The place where you buy the rebar will probably be able to cut it to the lengths you want, maybe for cutting a fee.

To mount a 4' X 8' sign, drive a 7' piece of 1/2" rebar 2' into the ground.  This will not be easy to do in frozen ground.  A sharpened point or chisel point on the rebar will help.  You willneed a special tool to drive the rebar.  The best is a device made for driving metal fence posts - a sort of slide hammer.  Borrow one from somebody who uses metal fence posts.  Don't try to drive rebar, especially into frozen ground, with any sort of regular hammer.  Don't try!  Drive another 7' stick of rebar 8'2" away from the first.  Hopefully, neither will hit a rock and both will be straight up and down.  If not, they can be bent at ground level to make them straight up and down.  What is most important is to get them well driven.

Before you mount your coroplast sign between these two posts of rebar, you will need add two horizontal pieces of rebar.  If you don't install horizontal rebar, top and bottom, your coroplast sign will fold in the wind and look shoddy.  Be prepared with two more pieces of rebar that are 8'4" long.  Attach one horizontal 1" down from the top of the vertical rebar posts with nylon wire ties.  These will wrap diagonally across the vertical/horizontal rebar intersection.  Put one wire tie on each end to hold them (with a friend helping), then put one more at each end, at the opposite diagonal, to reinforce the joint.

Drop down 4'1" from the top horizontal rebar and install another horizontal the same way.  Then, attach your grommeted coroplast sign to this rebar frame with more nylon wire ties.

Alternate.  A large coroplast sign may be attached to a rigid backing as described above and then attached to just two pieces of rebar driven into the ground, without the horizontal cross pieces.  Drill holes in your backing wafer board or particle board, at least 1" away from the edge, to pass your wire ties through to attach to the rebar.

Painting rebar.  Without paint, rebar can rust quickly and look ugly (well, maybe not in freezing weather).  You may wish to paint it.  A simple way to paint a bunch of rebar is to make a dip tank out of 1 1/2" pipe, PVC or metal.  Cap one end.  Stand this pipe up somewhere where you can reach the upper end, such as off the side of a deck.  Fill your pipe dip tank nearly full (but not clear full) of inexpensive, black (or your favorite color) latex house paint (hint, you can thin the paint with water).  Dip each piece of rebar into this dip tank, lift each out, and stand them upright in a prepared place to drain and dry.  A piece of baling wire or tie wire can be attached to the end of each piece of rebar before dipping to use to handle the piece.  Figure out the height.  If you will coat an 8' piece of rebar, your dip tank must be 8' tall, plus the top of your dipped rebar will be 8' higher than that when you withdraw it from the tank.  You'll need a friend to help with this, but two of you can coat a lot of rebar quickly using this method.

Wood stands.  Large stands for mounting 4' X 8' signs can be made from wood.  If you are not an experienced carpenter, find an experienced carpenter to help you design and build these free-standing signs.  There will need to be two horizontal pieces that sit on the ground, perpendicular to the plane of the sign, underneath each of two uprights.  These are the "feet."  To withstand any wind load, these horizontal feet will need to be at least 4' long, better 6'.  Drill 3/4" holes in the end of these feet, angled at 45 degrees, so you can stake these feet to the ground.  Use rebar states about 2' long.  Drive them into the ground at 45 degrees to vertical.  The stakes will hold the foot of the sign down better if they are angled at 45 degrees.  Sandbags can be used to anchor the ends of the feet where stakes are not possible (such as on pavement).  Plan on gussets between the feet and the uprights.  These gussets can either be structural sheeting such as plywood or wafer board cut into large triangles (minimum of 2' tall, better taller), or structural wood toenailed between the foot and upright at 45 degrees on both the front and back sides of the upright member.  You will either need to build a full frame for a coroplast sign, or mount the coroplast on some rigid backing material when using wood stands.  Any carpenter can make a wooden stand from these instructions, using 2X4s.

Smaller Signs

Yard signs.  Standard yard signs can be installed in many different ways, including stapled up with a staple gun, and mounted inside the front window of a home.  However, the coroplast signs are designed to be mounted with the wire ladder stands sold with them.  These stands are a problem with hard ground - pavement, rocky soil, hard-packed earth, or frozen ground.  The legs of these wire stands are supposed to be driven into the ground to hold the sign, but the legs are wimpy and only bend when trying to insert them into hard ground.  Two alternate methods are suggested for mounting yard signs using the wire ladder stands with hard or frozen ground (January in Montana).

Stake and tie.  Bend the legs of the stand 90 degrees away from the plane of the sign, in opposite directions.  Drive two pieces of 1/2" or 3/8" rebar, 2' long, into the ground leaving about 10" above ground, the same distance apart as the uprights of the wire ladder stand.  Set the stand down with the bent legs flat on the ground, and tie the uprights to the rebar with tie wire or baling wire.  Tie twice on each side, high and low on the rebar, and bend the ends of the remaining tie wire down.

Wood blocks.  Lumber yards often have damaged, twisted or curved 6" X 6"s that they will sell cheap or donate.  Lumber yards also have chainsaws.  Get the yard to whack you off some 18" blocks of reject 6" X 6".  Get a drill bit just a little larger than the upright wires of your wire stands and at least 6" long.  Drill a hole in each block, on center between the ends, and center from side to side, perpendicular to the face of the block, and clear through the block.  Set two blocks on the ground at your chosen sign location and stick the wire stand legs into the holes you've drilled.  You can even stick the wire legs a couple of inches through the far side of the block and bend them over with a hammer.  These block feet will resist minimal (but not extreme) wind load on the sign.  If the weather is really cold, pour a quart of water on the ground before putting the blocks down.

Maintenance and Vandalism.

Plan on checking your installed sign locations at least once each week.  Things happen to signs - weather, kids, animals, and outright vandalism.  You need to keep your candidate's signs up and looking good.  Unfortunately, vandalism happens to political signs, sometimes by generic vandals, people with no respect for property, and sometimes by political opponents or their supporters.  The most effective response to vandalism is to get the sign back up or replaced and keep it up.

Finally, be sure to retrieve EVERY sign you have installed when the campaign is over, win or lose.  This is your responsibility.  Plan for it.

More Info

Anyone with any more clever ideas about mounting campaign signs may send me an email to gary at marbut dot com and I'll post ideas here.  Send digital pictures of your sign installation and I'll post here what I can.

Ginny's sign:
Gin 1 Gin 2