The Auburn City Council needs to re-examine its political sign ordinance after legitimate doubts were raised in Lewiston about the constitutionality of similar rules.
Monday night the Auburn Council heard a proposal from Councilor Tizz Crowley to forbid political signs on city medians and other public property during elections. Crowley — who posted political signs last year during her uncontested campaign for election to the Ward 1 seat — argued that the signs are an eyesore and a distraction to drivers.
Others might argue that the colorful signs are a reassuring indicator that local democracy is alive and well. Plus they give candidates an relatively inexpensive way to get their name before the public.
Councilors heard Crowley's objections but left the existing ordinance standing.
But that ordinance has a problem, a 30-day limit on when signs can be displayed on private property and a seven-day deadline to have them removed.
Last month, Tim Lajoie, a Republican candidate for Maine House District 73, challenged a Lewiston ordinance that forbids election signs on private property to six weeks before an election.
The American Civil Liberties Union weighed in on the issue, pointing out that the local ordinances appear to conflict with state law and the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
Lewiston, Farmington and Alfred all agreed to hold off on enforcing their sign ordinances, and the Lewiston Council voted Tuesday night to exempt private property from its sign rules.
"These ordinances single out the restriction of political speech, which is unconstitutional," Alysiz Melnick, a lawyer with the ACLU of Maine told the Sun Journal last month.
"Local governments can't legislatively silence political speech by treating political messages different from other types of signs."
Lewiston will continue to limit signs on certain public rights of way and on some public property, including schools, parks and cemeteries.
Auburn should also drop its restrictions on signs placed on private property to conform with the law.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.