Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Our HD signals for BBC and Classical KUER are down. We are working to restore them.

A Sign Of The Times: Utahns Are Frustrated With Disappearing Political Yard Signs

A political yard sign sits next to an empty stand.
Courtesy of Dave Buhler
University of Utah professor Dave Buhler has had his lawn signs stolen multiple times in the run-up to the 2020 election.

Political yard signs have been going missing.

It’s a problem that’s been reported as far south as St. George and as far north as Logan during the run-up to the 2020 election.

In Cache County, Democrats have seen more than half of their party’s 100 presidential signs disappear in recent weeks, said the party’s county leader Danny Beus. And according to his Republican counterpart, Chris Booth, dozens of signs and flags endorsing President Donald Trump have vanished. That’s why the two released a joint statement earlier this month calling for the sign theft to stop.

“It's one thing to disagree with someone's candidate of choice,” they said in the statement. “But it is never okay to disrespect and/or vandalize peeple's private property by taking and/or destroying signs.”

In a subsequent joint interview with KUER, Beus later added that stealing signs doesn’t just infringe on property rights. It’s also about freedom of speech.

“If somebody were to steal my sign, I would go out and buy a bigger sign and a flag. It wouldn’t silence me,” Beus said. “But it really could silence other people. And that's the last thing we want to do."

Travis Seegmiller, an incumbent Republican representative from Washington County, also sent out a press release earlier this month. In it, he alleged that two thirds of his signs had been stolen and destroyed and called on his opponent to denounce the behavior.

A Perennial Problem

In the eyes of former politician Dave Buhler, signs going missing is a problem best met with a subtle response.

A former state senator and Salt Lake City councilmember, Buhler is now a political science professor at the University of Utah. He’s currently teaching a class on campaign management that specifically includes a section on lawn signs.

Buhler has had his signs stolen in the past, both as a candidate as a private citizen. And while he understands the frustration it causes, he said it hasn’t changed the advice he gives to campaigns and students alike.

“Don’t go to the media. Don’t accuse your opponent. Don’t go out and retaliate by stealing your opponent’s signs. Just put another one up,” he said. “That’s the best thing to do.

”More often than not, campaigns lack concrete evidence that a theft has occurred, making it impossible to prove whether the disappearance is the result of political sabotage or a high school prank, he said.

On the bright side, it also creates an opportunity for campaigns to sell more signs, he added.

When Signs Aren’t Just About Politics

Not all stolen signs are about political campaigns. Every year, roughly 10% of the pride flags put up by Project Rainbow are stolen or vandalized, said the organization’s founder, Lucas Horns. He added that flags disappear just as often in urban areas as they do in rural ones.

The group’s goal is to promote visibility and acceptance for the state’s LGBTQ community by leasing out lawn flags across the state. And while the missing flags could be seen as discouraging, Horns said he prefers to stay focused on the ones that are still standing.

“They’re out there having this impact that you can’t really quantify and you can’t really measure,” he said. “It’s just such a clear symbol of love and acceptance that even just a brief glimpse of it can mean a lot to people.”

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.