They began to appear in late summer. And they have sprouted and multiplied, seemingly daily, up until Election Day. Campaign signs. Now that the election is over, what happens to them? Who can remove them and are there any rules?

Up until Election Day, it is unsporting, and illegal to meddle with campaign signs. However, now that the election is over, a massive sign-clean up effort takes place, organized each year by Mayor Pam Hemminger.

Candidates who tussled days before head out together to retrieve each others signs along designated routes. It’s a way to acknowledge that we all live in the same towns, and we can all come together after an election takes place.

We were curious to learn more about this pretty heartwarming community effort, so we sent some questions to Mayor Pam, who graciously answered them.

Tell us about your sign clean up program – how many signs and where do they go?

I send out an email to all candidates (except this year did not send to school board candidates who did not have signs) telling them about the cleanup and offering to coordinate it.
I then confirm with Chapel Hill that we can use Cedar Falls Park parking lot and with Carrboro for Town Commons.

How did it start?

James Barrett did this many years ago as a way to get the signs picked up more quickly. He asked for someone to take it over so I volunteered eight years ago and have been doing it during the municipal election cycles.

How do you assign candidates their routes?

There are seven designated routes and I ask for preferences of top two routes from candidates.
Then I try to match aligned candidates with routes. Sometimes it is a school board candidate with a council candidate, and sometimes there are enough for three candidates on one route.
I place a sign for each candidate on the two sites (Damon helped the last two times) on Monday night or early Tuesday which I have to collect from random places and take a picture [so people know where to place signs.]
I send out the reminder on Sunday with a pic with the assigned routes and partner.
Some candidates do not wish to participate but most do. They are responsible for their signs and we give them a couple of weeks to get them off the two sites.

Are you going to continue it beyond this year or are you passing the baton?

I am happy to continue helping (I love spreadsheets) but also welcome anyone else who wants to help!
Sorting the signs at the drop off sites takes time and we welcome folks to come help if they want.
Signs in individual yards are also dropped off sometimes! We have not had much success in recycling the signs but we keep trying….

Are there any special techniques for sign removal on major highways? is it a two person job?

Sign placement and removal can be dangerous. Putting them out is harder when the ground is so dry! Collecting is easier and faster if getting all the signs. Gloves help!

My first time putting out signs was in 2004. It was with wooden stakes, a sledge hammer, and stapling two signs together. Tough and dirty work!
Now with two-sided signs and metal stakes, it is a bit easier. Never had to use the industrial size stapler again that I bought back then so I donated it to a school!

We want to thank Mayor Pam for graciously answering these questions and for serving Chapel Hill over the past eight years.

If you have signs in your yard or spot a rogue sign, you can bring them to either Cedar Falls Park or Carrboro Town Commons over the next few days, and put them in the designated piles. The candidates will retrieve them. If you’d rather keep them, here are some helpful ideas for recycling them done or suggested by other blogbloggers.

“I keep a small supply around the house for random uses. For example, I use four retired signs, zip-tied together, to cover the top of our AC units in the winter. This keeps leaves and snow and ice from getting into them.”

“I use them as sleds for my kids.”

“I ran for Town Council once and had plans to run again, but then birds made a nest on my pile of signs, and that was a sign that I shouldn’t re-run.”

“I reused them as wedding reception signs – painted over, of course!”

In the last municipal election cycle, we helped increase turnout by over 20 percent. We're all volunteers who care deeply about Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and we're working to make Chapel Hill and Carrboro more vibrant, accessible, fun, and sustainable.  Please consider a small donation to help us keep our digital lights on, host events, and hire students to do data deep-dives.

John Rees lives in Chapel Hill. His day job is an enterprise architect for a big IT company. He was, until very recently, a member of the Chapel Hill Planning Commission and former chair. He serves on...