According to residents and campaign officials, the Hidden Lakes subdivision in southeastern Tracy is a hot spot for vanishing political signs.
Atherton Drive resident Gail Rieger, a self-identified Democrat, said this week that the signs dotting her yard and that of her left-leaning neighbor vanished during the day.
“(They were) taken from our yard some time today,” she said Tuesday, Oct. 23. “When I left this morning, they were there.”
Hers was not the only case reported in the area. Just a few nights earlier, Rieger said, signs supporting Republican candidates disappeared from nearby front yards.
Neighbors Melinda and Dave Blackwell suggested Thursday, Oct. 25, that it could be the work of a “really strict” homeowner’s association representative, who they said regularly tours the subdivision looking for homes that violate association bylaws.
But Dave Blackwell said those with too many political signs are supposed to get a written warning, not have their signs summarily removed.
“Nobody should be going around taking signs,” he said.
Many partisans think the disappearances are deliberate political attacks.
Margaret Edwards, recording secretary for Republican Women Federated, corroborated Rieger’s story, saying signs for Republican-aligned candidates were taken down around Hidden Lakes.
“There’s a lot of stuff happening, and people are saying they’re missing their signs,” said Edwards, who lives on Gomes Court in the Greenbriar neighborhood.
She said her mailbox was vandalized the day after she was approached by a City Council candidate who was “surprised” Edwards didn’t have a sign of support in her yard.
“My husband actually has a picture of it, … of our damaged mailbox,” said Edwards, whose husband works on Bob Elliott’s campaign for a seat on the county board of supervisors.
Edwards said that signs promoting Elliott’s opponent, Rhodesia Ransom, seemed suspiciously untouched in the Hidden Lakes subdivision, while Elliott’s reportedly disappeared en masse.
But Rieger said her Ransom sign was taken Tuesday. And Ransom herself said many of her signs in the Elissagaray Ranch subdivision recently vanished.
“I have noticed that the signs tend to disappear in certain neighborhoods, and always in the middle of the night,” Ransom said, though she did not accuse her opponent or any particular candidate of endorsing sign-stealing as a tactic.
Elliott said his signs have also disappeared from Elissagaray Ranch and many other areas around town.
“Sure enough, in Hidden Lakes, darned near all my signs have disappeared,” Elliott said.
He added that he was told many signs for his opponent remained standing.
He said some of his larger signs have also gone missing and been found torn down in the street.
“That kind of thing has been happening, and it’s just unfortunate that people feel the need to do that,” he said.
People campaigning on his behalf, Elliott said, have been instructed to leave other signs alone.
“I have told the members of my campaign committee not to touch other people’s signs,” he said.
Ransom also said her team has been told not to take signs and said she would “love to see” video of people committing such acts.
She also said she instructed her surrogates to secure permission before signs are placed on private property.
“At the end of the day, my concern is about talking to the voters, not stealing anybody’s yard signs,” Ransom said.
She guessed it could be “overzealous supporters” responsible for taking signs in town, rather than an arm of an organized campaign.
Keith Smith agreed with Ransom’s analysis. The University of the Pacific political science professor, who has closely followed the 2012 campaign, said sign stealing is fairly common during election years, but it’s rarely a concerted effort.
“Honestly, it’s people being silly,” Smith said Tuesday. “It’s probably not affiliated with any of the campaigns, per se. It’s supporters who take it upon themselves. Occasionally you find out it was one of the campaigns who did it, and there’s a big brouhaha over it, but generally it’s just silliness.”
Smith said signs are unlikely to make a significant difference during a campaign, even though placards are designed only to boost name recognition.
“For candidates, name recognition is priority number one. They need voters to be able to recognize their names when they read their ballot,” he said.
However, Smith said campaigns tend to take such matters “incredibly seriously” — as much for the money they cost as for any return on the investment.
Ransom said small yard signs typically cost less than $5 each, but the larger 4-foot-by-8-foot banners can cost $75 or more.
Capt. John Espinoza of the Tracy Police Department said Thursday that officers are on the lookout for people who seem to be vandalizing or taking campaign signs. But sometimes it can be difficult to tell, he said, who has the authority to handle a sign and who does not.
“The challenge, of course, is we need people to see the theft is occurring or vandalism is occurring and to report it — and to identify the person,” he said. “I think a challenge is trying to identify who is an authorized person to place signs or move signs.”
He said the issue comes up every election year.
“It’s just unfortunately one of the things that occurs every election cycle,” he said.
• Contact Jon Mendelson at 830-4231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.