They are harbingers of autumn, as sure an example of fall as leaves littering the gutter.
Green, red or blue, they scream for your attention in 6-inch tall lettering: Vote no on this amendment, yes on that one. Re-elect this candidate or put this new one in office.
Campaign signs — the kind you see on yards, street corners and road sides everywhere this time of year — are as indispensable to a politician as a firm handshake and as common as campaign promises.
"We usually get a few complaints about the signs," said Mary Lou Magno, Auburn city clerk. "'Someone's sign is blocking mine,' or a bunch were knocked down or stolen."
So far this year, most candidate signs have made it through the season unscathed. Police reported few instances of sign vandalism.
State rules say the signs can go up six weeks before Election Day — that was Sept. 22 this year — and must be removed one week after Election Day.
In Lewiston, they can go on any public way except in front of city buildings, schools, cemeteries and parks. Auburn has no such rule, as long as the placards don't create hazards.
Designs, sizes and colors are largely unregulated. State election rules have only one requirement — a single sentence somewhere on the sign must say who paid for them, whether it was a candidate, his election committee or friends. The font can be tiny; it only has to be legible to someone really looking for it.
That rule snared one candidate this year. Auburn Ward 1 candidate Richard Francouer had to pull his signs off of the street after the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices was notified that all-important disclaimer was missing. Francouer wrote his disclaimers on stickers by hand and had his signs back on the street in no time.
Practicality really demands what the signs look like, according to sign-makers.
"I tell people to settle on one message, a single word if you can," said Karl "Skip" Lalemand, of Designs by Skip in Auburn. "They're meant to be read while driving by at 35 miles per hour. You don't have a lot of time to make an impression."
Lalemand is one of several Lewiston-Auburn designers that help candidates with signs. It's one part of his business, which involves putting business and promotional logos on just about everything, from blankets and pill boxes to window scrapers games. Signs, especially for political campaigns, are a big part of that.
Simpler is better, Lalemand said. Color is great, but don't overdo it.
"Too much color tends to overwhelm the message," he said. "It's really a balance. You want to stand out from all of the other signs, but not so much its a distraction. Besides, too much color is too expensive."
The medium tends to favor candidates or causes with short names. They can afford to put their names front and center, with the largest font possible.
"But if someone has a really long name, I recommend using a nickname," he said. "Like, 'Vote for Ed' or Skip, or whatever it is that people know you by."
Construction is another consideration. He recommends using the sturdier, corrugated plastic signs. They withstand all sorts of weather and can last for several years — perfect for re-election campaigns. They cost about $1 each when purchased in the thousands.
"But some people go for the paper signs," he said. "They don't last as long, and if there's a lot of wind or a heavy snow, they're gone. But you get a lot more for your money, so you can afford to replace them if they get ruined."