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Tue, Oct. 22

Laying down the law on campaign signs

PHOENIX -- Candidates are not going to get an extra month or so ahead of primary elections to put up their campaign signs.

In an informal legal opinion Tuesday, state Solicitor General John Lopez rejected the idea that the counting of days ahead of an election when signs can be erected runs from the day that voters get their early ballots. He said that would run contrary to the plain meaning of the law.

The opinion, written by Lopez on behalf of Attorney General Mark Brnovich, is significant because it also makes clear the dates that cities and counties can take down the signs of those candidates who are too anxious and jump the gun.

On paper, the law is clear.

It says local governments cannot remove political signs if certain conditions are met.

But that prohibition exists only from 90 days before a primary election and ending 15 days after the general election. Candidates who lose in the primary have to remove their signs 15 days after that race.

But Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, pointed out that Arizona law says early ballots go out about a month ahead of the actual primary. And voters can fill them out and mail them back as soon as they get them.

So Townsend questioned whether candidates could start putting out their signs 60 days ahead of early voting.

Lopez said that interpretation of the law does not work.

"The date of the primary election is the date specifically provided by statute, not the date that ballots are mailed out for the primary election,' he wrote.

"Nothing in the early balloting statute ... purports to alter the date of the 'primary election,' ' Lopez continued. "It simply allows qualified electors to vote by early ballot.'

Anyway, he said reading the law the way Townsend suggested "would be to manufacture ambiguity.'

And there's something else.

Lopez said the law governs not just the period before the election but also how long signs can stay up afterwards. He said if the date of the election was calculated from the day early ballots went out, that would allow cities, towns and counties to take down political signs for the general election 15 days after the mailing, "potentially resulting in political signs being taken down before the actual general election date.'

Townsend said she agrees with what Lopez concluded but sought the opinion because a political foe was erecting signs earlier than 90 days before the primary, using the early ballot date. Townsend said if that was the way the law could be read, "I didn't want to lose 30 days' opportunity.'

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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