Signs of the Times: Political Advertising Rules

Signs of the Times:
Political Advertising Rules
Aren’t That Difficult To Follow
By Susan M. Halpern
Former Addison Councilmember (1992-1999)

It’s springtime in Addison.  The flowers are blooming, the grass is green and the weather is warming.  The signs are all there!  It must be election time.  And that means political signs and political advertising aimed at allowing Addison voters to get to know the candidates.

This year, we have four incumbents running: Mayor Joe Chow and Councilmembers Lori Ward, Tom Braun and Ivan Hughes.  All four abided by the informal understanding that has existed for years regarding not putting signs up until 30 days before election day.  So, on April 4th, their signs went up, but not a minute before.  Other candidates ignored this informal agreement, placing signs out well in advance of the 30-day window.  That was disappointing at best.

Political signs are subject to some very specific regulations set forth in the Texas Election Code.  One section recognizes that these political signs can be misleading to voters.  So, for example, the Election Code prohibits use of the word “reelect” by persons who don’t hold the office they are seeking, because use of the term suggests that such persons do hold office, when that isn’t true.  The Election Code also requires that if the office sought is listed on the sign, for example referencing “Addison Council” or the like, then a person who doesn’t hold that office must include the word “for” before the office.  That makes it clear that the person is not then an incumbent office holder, which ensures that voters are not misled. 

Two candidates have signs that appear to run afoul of these important rules.  One was once a councilmember but isn’t now, yet he has chosen to use the word “reelect” on his signs.  It is baffling, given that the regulations prohibiting that practice are so clear.  The same candidate also has “Addison Council” on his sign.  Initially, the word “for” wasn’t there which again ran afoul of the regulations.  After he was notified by at least one person we know of, the word “for” was added to his signs.  The problem is that the word was added using a black marker on a dark blue background, so it is very hard to see and most people passing by probably won’t notice it.  They’ll see “reelect” and they’ll see the office, and some may be misled into thinking that this non-officeholder somehow holds office.  The other candidate’s signs likewise don’t have the word “for” before the office that is listed, and they are missing required disclaimers.

The candidates received information about the requirements of the Texas Election Code in their candidate packages.  They also received a memo from Addison’s City Secretary via email on April 9, 2019, which very specifically addressed the use of the word “reelect” by non-incumbents.  Yet, a quick drive around town two days later confirmed the continued use of this misleading terminology.

The rules exist for a reason, and they should be followed.  Failure to do so exhibits attitudes at variance with The Addison Way.  That really is disappointing.