FAQs - Political Signs
Select a question below to reveal the answer.
What are "political campaign signs"?Political campaign signs include any temporary advertising device or sign that is designed to influence the passage or defeat of any measure on the ballot or designed to influence the voters with respect to the nomination, election, defeat, or removal of a candidate from public office at any national, state or local general or special election.
Where are political campaign signs NOT allowed?There are state, county and municipal laws and ordinances that govern political signs. Iowa law states that political campaign signs are not allowed on any property:
-Owned by the state or the governing body of a county, city or other political subdivision of the state, including all property considered public right of way (examples include buildings, bridges, trees or other natural features, fire hydrants, traffic control signs or devices, utility poles, posts, gates, fences, and vehicles).
-Owned by a prohibited contributor under Iowa Code section 68A.503, unless the sign advocates the passage or defeat of a ballot issue or is exempted.
-Without the permission of the property owner.
-On election day, either on the premises of any polling place or within 300 feet of any outside door of any building affording access to any room where the polls are held, or of any outside door of any building affording access to any hallway, corridor, stairway, or other means of reaching the room where the polls are held.
-Within 300 feet of an absentee voting site or satellite absentee voting station, during the hours when absentee ballots are available.
What is the public roadway right-of-way?The roadway right of way includes the roadway surface, concrete or grassy median, intersections, entrance and exit ramps, and a strip of land, usually bordering either side of the road, which is reserved for shoulders, drainage ditches, sidewalks, traffic signs/signals, fencing, electrical traffic signal control boxes, utility lines, and future road expansion.
The right-of-way boundary is an invisible line that may not be possible to identify without detailed legal maps and a formal survey. When in doubt about the location of the right-of-way line, contact the transportation agency responsible for the roadway (Iowa Department of Transportation, secondary roads department engineer or city public works director).
What happens to illegally posted signs?Removal of signs constituting an immediate and dangerous hazard
If a sign placed or erected upon the right of way of any public highway constitutes an immediate and dangerous hazard, a representative of the highway authority or law enforcement agency shall, without notice or liability in damages, remove it and assess the associated costs against the owner of the sign.
Removal of signs NOT constituting an immediate and dangerous hazard
A political campaign sign placed or erected upon the right of way of any public highway that does not constitute an immediate and dangerous hazard will be removed without liability after 48-hour notice is provided to the person responsible for the sign.
Notice is provided in a manner reasonably calculated to apprise the individual that the sign will be removed at their expense, after the 48-hour notice period has expired. If the sign must by removed by the highway agency, they may immediately send a statement of the cost of removal. If within 10 days after sending the statement the cost is not paid, the highway authority may institute proceeding in the district court system to collect the cost of removal.
Authority of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board
Under Iowa"s campaign laws, signs in the right of way are also subject to administrative penalties by the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, and are also potentially subject to criminal prosecution as a serious misdemeanor.
State, county and city highway authorities; city and county law enforcement authorities; and the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board have the legal right and duty to remove or ensure removal of improperly placed signs.
Where can campaigners recover signs removed by the DOT?Highway crews are asked to make reasonable attempts to preserve campaign signs taken down, transport them to the nearest maintenance garage and provide campaign offices with an opportunity to claim the signs. Signs are typically stored for 30 days before being discarded. To recover a sign removed by the Iowa Department of Transportation, contact the nearest district maintenance manager for assistance.
How can Iowans make a complaint about an illegally posted sign?To complain about illegally posted campaign signs on interstate or state highway right of way, contact the nearest DOT district maintenance manager. Contact the local city or county official for signs posted illegally on city streets or county roadways. Or, contact the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board in Des Moines.
Where are political campaign signs allowed?Political campaign signs may be placed with the permission of the property owner on:
- Residential property.
- Agricultural land owned by individuals or by a family farm operation.
- Property leased for residential purposes (apartments, condominiums and houses).
- Vacant lots owned by a private individual.
- Property owned by an organization that is not a prohibited contributor under Iowa Code section 68A.503.
- Property leased by a candidate, committee or organization established to advocate the nomination, election or defeat of a candidate, or passage or defeat of a ballot issue that has not yet registered pursuant to Iowa Code section 68A.201, when the property is used as headquarters or an office (the placement of the sign is limited to the space that is actually leased).
Iowa's Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board also has jurisdiction over sign placement under Iowa Code chapter 68A.
When must signs be removed?To reduce visual clutter, it is recommended that all political campaign signs be removed within a reasonable time following the election or other event to which the sign refers. Signs for successful primary election candidates generally remain in place until a reasonable time following the general election. Iowa law does not establish a time frame for removal of signs.
Although the campaign may agree to remove any sign, the property owner is ultimately responsible for compliance with the removal policy.
What can be done if signs are posted on private property without permission?Property owners can contact the campaign's headquarters to ask to have the sign removed and advise the campaign about the error so it is not repeated. The Iowa DOT has authority under Iowa Code chapter 306C to remove the sign if neither the landowner nor occupant support the opinion on the sign.
What are the costs and safety risks associated with illegally posted signs?Improperly placed signs in the roadway right-of-way can reduce a driver's view, distract from his/her attention, compound damages or injuries in the event of a crash, endanger the safety of individuals who are erecting the signs along busy highways, present obstacles to crews who maintain roadways, and force pedestrians and bicyclists into dangerous areas close to the road edge or onto difficult terrain alongside the road shoulder.
Traffic and pedestrian safety is a high priority for the Iowa Department of Transportation, and DOT crews are quick to address safety concerns related to illegally posted campaign signs.
Illegally posted signs also waste valuable taxpayer resources. Each year, the Iowa DOT receives numerous complaints about improperly posted signs, or discovers them during routine inspections, mowing or other operations. DOT crews must follow up on these complaints and remove illegal signs . . . time better spent maintaining our roadways.