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Ask/Answered is a weekly feature for reader-submitted questions. Follow the blog online at www.cumberlink.com:

Can’t Carlisle stop political signs from covering public right-of-ways?

‘Tis the season for political signs everywhere you look, and not just on people’s yards. Public spaces, like Interstate 81 on-ramps or the traffic island at the Route 641 and Route 74 split in Carlisle, are almost completely covered with signs advertising candidates in the May 21 primary.

That led to one reader question: why isn’t Carlisle (and other towns) preventing this?

The Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court provide one obstacle. In the 2015 case Reed v. Town of Gilbert, the court ruled that an Arizona ordinance regulating political and “ideological” signs on public right of ways violates the First Amendment because it creates a “content-based” restriction on speech.

According to guidance from the Pennsylvania Association of Boroughs, that ruling meant that “most municipalities (will have) to change their sign ordinances to ensure that they are not violating the First Amendment.”

While enforcement may risk a constitutional challenge, many towns do have ordinances limiting signage. Such regulations are typically at a municipal level, so consult your borough or township for exact rules.

Carlisle’s borough code specifically addresses political signs, prohibiting them from public property except polling places on Election Day. It also limits the size and timing of signage on private property.

Another section of Carlisle’s code prohibits all signs except those erected by the government on “any public property, public street, public sidewalk, public right-of-way, tree, utility pole, stone, cliff and other natural objects,” an upset to any adventurous candidates planning to rappel down the side of a mountain for advantageous sign placement.

A Carlisle codes official would not comment on the borough’s enforcement limits on political signs, and another borough official did not return a call and an email requesting comment before deadline.

PennDOT does not officially permit signs along the state right of way, and has at times enforced the rule. It also officially bans the placement of signs on interstates and their on-ramps and off-ramps and on other limited-access roads. Any signs on state roads that impair sight distance for motorists will be removed, PennDOT says.

On May 21, voters will select candidates for a variety of local offices, including county commissioners, row offices, judges, school board members, borough council members and township supervisors.

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Daniel Walmer covers public safety for The Sentinel. You can reach him by email at dwalmer@cumberlink.com or by phone at 717-218-0021.

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