BRADFORD, Pa. — Thieves and vandals across McKean County are targeting political signs, some say with more frequency than ever before.
Ken Kane, county Republican chair, and Marty Wilder, county Democratic chair, both have condemned the practice.
And so does the law.
“Every year during elections, candidates often face theft or destruction of campaign signs,” said McKean County District Attorney Stephanie Vettenburg-Shaffer, explaining it is against the law to remove, alter or deface political signs.
“The most likely charge for damaging property is the crime of criminal mischief which makes it a crime to damage property of another by defacing the property. The punishment for the crime depends on the value of the damage.”
Several factors are taken into consideration, but it could involve a sentence of fines, community service, probation or even jail.
Members of the county Democratic Party said they’ve been struggling with the issue all summer.
Monday night, several members of the county’s Democratic Party put up a large Biden sign at the Larabee Y in Eldred.
“It didn’t take more than a few hours before somebody spray painted it,” said John Jeselnick.
In fact, when the men were putting the sign up, a motorcyclist passed by, turned around and came back to yell at them.
“He said, ‘Guys, that’s a waste of lumber and materials,’” Jeselnick recounted. “He actually made the effort to turn around and come back. Talk about a rank attitude.”
Pete Palumbo explained this was the third large sign that was spray painted with anti-Democrat messages.
“We’ve had about 50 small signs stolen across the county in the last couple of months,” Palumbo said.
While the Democrats are frustrated, they are urging fellow party members in the county to refrain from retaliation.
“We’re going to keep going,” Palumbo said. “We’ve rethought where we’re going to put some of our signs.”
And Jeselnick said he’s considering a game camera to take photos of the perpetrators for law enforcement.
“It’s terrible that Democrat supporters have to go through that,” he said. “I’ve been all over the western part of the state. I have not seen a Trump sign defiled or defaced — not one.”
Palumbo said the party supporters have talked about what to do with the defaced signs, and decided to do nothing.
“We’re going to leave them as they are and people can see what we’re dealing with,” he said. “We’re going to leave them stand as a monument” to the discord in communities.
“I’ve never seen this happen in my 70 years,” Palumbo said. “There used to be some good-natured kidding back and forth, but not like this. It’s plain viciousness.”
Wilder reiterated that signs have been disappearing since Biden supporters began displaying them.
“And the ones too large to steal, they deface,” she said. “It would be easy to blame ‘kids’ for the behavior but some of it’s too systematic.”
Wilder said some party members in the county are afraid to display Biden signs “for fear of retaliation,” and many local residents have voiced displeasure that Democrats “have the audacity” to post the signs in McKean County at all.
“On the other hand, every time a sign is stolen we hear from voters more committed than ever to clean house — the White House,” she said. While the county may be heavily Republican, she said, “Every time a sign is taken, it creates a more energized Democrat.
“Let the vandals beware: We still have a large cache of signs and aren’t a bit discouraged.“
While the problem for Republicans in the county doesn’t seem to be as bad, it is still a concern.
Kane said he’s had signs stolen, and is disappointed that these sorts of things are happening.
“The electoral process gives us all a vote,” he said, calling for people to respect each other and each other’s opinions. “It’s unfortunate that so many people are looking at it so divisively.”
Theft or vandalism of the opponent’s political signs detracts from the message of the candidate one is supporting, Kane added.
“Win on the issues, not that way,” he said. “That’s actually hurting the candidate you think you are supporting when you are doing that.
“There’s no reason for it. It’s denying people their First Amendment right to free speech. That’s terrible,” Kane said. “There’s no excuse to do this. There’s no candidate that would support that.”