Election signs are important

The menace of colourful rectangles!

Ah, the municipal campaign season is nearing its end. And soon, the flock of sign grouses will return to their roosts and hibernate until the next campaign begins. You can identify the sign grouse by their grumbling complaints about the existence of campaign signs. To them, evidently, there is no greater blight on the urban landscape than colourful rectangles by the roadside. And some of those rectangles have pictures on them! THE HORROR!

I’ve even heard politicos themselves mutter their displeasure at signs, hoping that someday they will be banned completely. They say signs are expensive, installing them is time and labour-intensive, and sign clutter is messy. All true. But campaign signs are also important to a healthy democracy for 3 reasons: candidate legitimacy, candidate name recognition, and election awareness.

Candidate Legitimacy

Campaign signs tell the public several important facts about your campaign. They demonstrate that you have the resources (people and money) to purchase and install signs across the area that you’re running in. They demonstrate that you have an ability to follow the rules ( or reveal that you can’t). A well-designed sign shows the voters that you are a serious candidate who will act professionally and understands political norms. And overall, they show that you have a functioning campaign.

Name Recognition

I know you want to believe that the average voter spends time researching the candidates, examining their positions, and making an informed decision, but I have to burst your bubble. Political weirdos like me do that. Most people don’t. The average person spends about 5 minutes thinking about any given election, and that five minutes takes place during their walk to the voting booth. The only political name they have been exposed to in the period between elections is the incumbent, and a lot of voters will choose the name that sounds the most familiar. Campaign signs are the only opportunity the other candidates have to shout their name at the electorate and build name recognition with those voters. So if you like making it even easier for an incumbent to get re-elected, ban campaign signs.

Election Awareness

Those voters I mentioned above, who only spend 5 minutes of political thought per election? They may not even notice that an election is happening. Politics has so little meaning to their day to day life that they can ignore the entire election without being inconvenienced. But each campaign sign they see as they drive to work is an unavoidable reminder that an election is indeed taking place, and they should probably get off their ass and vote. My suspicion is that is really the reason why people get irrationally angry at colourful rectangles: they hate being nagged about their civic responsibility.


To head off one of the common anti-sign complaints, let me clarify: There is a legitimate need for a sign by-law that prevents campaign signs from being placed in a location that interferes with road safety. I’m not arguing against that part of the sign by-laws. Good god, why would anyone? But I am arguing against the elements of the by-law that are driven exclusively by esthetics and feelings. Your feelings are your business, not the governments.

Oh, and the 48 hour deadline to takedown all your campaign signs is arbitrary and malicious. It’s a petty deadline meant to discourage campaigns from putting up signs in the first place.

Published by Chris

I'm an author, freelance writer, dad, and civic busybody living in London, Ontario

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