By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The scene on the ground

Sign-holders outside Danvers High School

We voted at Danvers High School a few minutes after 9 a.m. The town consolidated all eight precincts there a year or so ago, yet it wasn’t all that crowded — sign-holders and poll workers outnumbered voters. We might have caught an odd lull because, as we were leaving, there was a line of cars waiting to get in.

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  1. Harrybosch

    Given the national media exposure, it is embarassing and shameful to hear some prominent local politicians pre-emptively wonder out loud about potential vote-rigging, zombie voting, etc.

    Though not perfect, Massachusetts is not Florida.

    Outrageous and shameful for people who ostensibly love Massachusetts and whom you’d think would want it to be seen in a positive light.

  2. Steve Stein

    That free-standing Brown sign is illegal.

    In Acton, at noon:
    the weather: 32F and light snow. It’s been snowing here since dawn, about 2 inches on the ground, on top of the 6 we got over the weekend. Roads a bit slippery.

    Turnout moderate (heavier than I expected, heavier than the primary but not as heavy as 2008).

    Coakley had no signs at the polling place. (Odd – the only stand-outs I saw driving around this past week were Coakley supporters. But they had nothing at the polls.)

    The Brown campaign had a booth outside the 100′ line. Lots of Brown signs, only 2 people holding them. I suggested to them that the law requires that any campaign sign in evidence at the polling place be held. They said, “you got a copy of the law?” I did not, but the woman in charge of the polling place did, and so I got the police to go over and have them take down any signs not being held.

    One of the two Brown volunteers asked my name. I gave it, asked his name in return and held out my hand. He said “Oh, I’m not gonna shake that.” Pleasant fellow.

  3. Cassie

    I never understood the sign holders outside of polling places. Do they think people don’t know who to vote for? And isn’t it illegal?

    On Election Day, certain activities are prohibited within the polling location and within 150 feet of the polling place. General Law chapter 54, section 65 prohibits within 150 feet of a polling location, among other things, the posting, exhibition, circulation, or distribution of material–including pasters, stickers, posters, cards, handbills, placards, pictures or circulars–intended to influence the action of the voter. G. L. 54, § 65 (2002 ed.)

    They are always right at the door where I vote in Dorchester.

  4. Dunque

    Gee, Steve Stein, you were so friendly and supportive. I’m shocked, shocked!, he didn’t want to shake your hand.

  5. Treg

    Guess the law doesn’t apply to Brown Nosers. Or asking them to abide by it is un-American or something.

    What’s with the (illegal) Brown sign in DK’s pic? “I want my country back.” What kind of fantasy world are these people living in? Who do they believe has taken their country from them?

  6. paul

    Cassie, I’m not sure what the “polling location” and “polling place” are in the 150 foot law — is it the outside door or the table where you check in? In Brookline, they have heavy cast-iron standing signs on the sidewalks marking the 150 foot boundary and seem to locate them based on the location of the door to get inside — usually it’s in a school and you have to walk down the halls to get to the gym where the voting takes place. I wonder if the Boston city clerk interprets the 150 foot boundary differently — or maybe enforcement is really lax.

    I was voter #675 at precinct 6 (Brookline HS) in Brookline at 1:15 — I was #357 at 3:10 for the December 2009 primary, so it looks like roughly double the turnout this time, which Coakley really needs here if she’s going to pull this out. Nobody doing visibility outside the polls, just a few Coakley signs on nearby telephone polls and no Brown signs at all.

  7. Newshound

    Cassie – in my town the law is enforced – and then some – – – somehow they are pushed out 200 feet to the entrance to the school where voting is held. No shirts, caps or clothing either, that is intended to influence voters.

    Steve Stein – horribly disgusting. It is difficult for candidates to push away volunteers, but good management would critique volunteers on good, basic, elementary manners. Anyone interested enough in campaigns should at least be aware of laws and rules at polling places and importantly, display good manners.

    Too often people who become involved in political campaigns display horrible rudeness.

    I’ve been at some polling places where most everyone has a great time socializing, hugging, kissing, shaking hands, greeting old friends and relatives, and actually having decent and enjoyable conversation with opponents – – – just because someone else also wants the office doesn’t mean they are a bad person. It isn’t a boxing match. It’s America!

  8. Melissa

    @Dunque Is it now considered “unfriendly” to expect a polling station to uphold the state laws that govern elections? Because if we’re back to sidestepping the Constitution whenever it is inconvenient, I’d say that the gentleman holding the Brown sign in the above photo already has his country back.

  9. Steve Stein

    Dunque – He asked my name, I figured he was being friendly. I figured wrong.

    It’s all in the game. People ought to be able to engage in the game and still remain civil. But the game has rules. I wasn’t being rude to them, I was trying to politely point out that they were in violation.

    If people are standing out for a candidate, they should know what the laws are and abide by them. Usually, they DO know what the rules are, and they’re just trying to skirt them. Happens all the time. When you’re caught out, you can do one of two things – They can say “yeah you got me” and obey the law. This is what usually happens. Or they can be obnoxious and arrogant like this guy was.

  10. Steve Stein

    Cassie – in Acton there are an actual lines drawn on the sidewalk and street that campaigners must stand behind. It’s rare that a campaigner crosses that line. Sometimes someone with a sign will cross in front of the polling place to get to the line on the other side and the police will make them put the sign down as they cross.

    Otherwise, outside of that zone, people can campaign as much as they want. First amendment and all. But all campaign signs on public property must be carried – you can’t just stick a bunch of yard signs outside the line on public property.

  11. Cassie

    I really don’t care if they hold the signs near the polling place. I would never tell the police about it. I just question the reasons for doing it. What do they think they achieve by holding a sign on the day of the election when everyone has already decided how to vote?

  12. Dunque

    Hey, Steve Stein – You are absolutely right about the law but here’s your re-counting of the story – “I suggested to them that the law requires that any campaign sign in evidence at the polling place be held. They said, “you got a copy of the law?” I did not, but the woman in charge of the polling place did, and so I got the police to go over and have them take down any signs not being held.”

    So after talking to them you went back inside and got a copy of the law and (not sure if this was a 3rd time back or not) got the police involved.

    And then he wouldn’t shake your hand.

    And you were surprised.

    Again you are spot-on about the law. But to expect the guy to then shake your hand?

    Melissa – State law. The constitution. These guys can only have side-stepped one, not both.

    Most people holding signs are doing so because of the firmness of their convictions. I think there are many of us who can sympathize with those whose convictions sometime get the better of their judgment. Was the guy unfriendly to Steve Stein? He sure was. But to have an expectation for anything else under those circumstances was ludicrous.

    Unless you’re telling me that the people running around with “Bushitler” signs not so long ago would have been interested in a reasoned discussion about terrorism and the modern age.

  13. charles pierce

    Is it time to start worrying about this Hudak guy yet?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @charles pierce: Hudak is a birther. A real piece of work.

  14. BillH

    I can take just about anything in a political campaign, but this “I want my country back” crap frosts me over. We have just come through eight years of the most inept, corrupt (and that’s going some!), “I’ve got mine Jack” mindset, and this guy wants to hand this country back to that. Seventy-five years ago these guys would have been crying about Social Security; and forty-five years ago they’d been predicting the end of the world with Medicare. They deserve whatever they get. And, if she loses, Martha Coakley has only herself to blame.

  15. Steve Stein

    Dunque – around here, the sign-holders are usually all local, and the atmosphere is usually pretty light, even between the parties. I’ve lived here over 30 years and know most of the election regulars. So, yes, I was surprised at the reaction. This is politics – smile, shake hands, make friends, even with people you disagree with.

    His move was bad politics. Amusing, though.

  16. Maybe it is an Acton ordinance but I have never heard of a law saying signs have to be held at polling locations. In fact, in the 24 years I have been involved or covering Massachusetts politics, I have never heard of that law and never seen it enforced. I have seen signs at polling locations, without people holding them, in Arlington, Belmont, Boston, Cambridge, Lexington, Somerville, and other communities. Maybe there is a law …
    The 150-foot line is a law. Most communities have spraypainted lines. They are exactly 150 feet from the voting machine location – not the door of the location. So, it if seems close to the door, that’s why. It’s based on where the polling machine is located in most communities.

  17. Dan Kennedy

    What I want to know is why the Brown supporter was standing in the snow. I suppose I could have asked him, but the temptation to quiz him on Obama’s birthplace no doubt would have got the better of me.

    More on Hudak and the birthers here (second item from the bottom).

  18. todd

    I’d like to being a movement to squash this “on the ground” meme.

  19. Steve Stein

    Tony – interesting. This (warning:.doc file) from the SecState’s office says: “There are no state statutes addressing unattended signs on public property. […]

    Frequently municipalities also have by-laws regulating the posting of signs on private property. By-laws regulating the posting of political signs have included regulation of: the size of the sign, the number of signs on a piece of property, and the time period during which the sign may be exhibited. If the municipality has such a by-law, it is the law in that municipality, and must be complied with. Please check with city or town hall for copies of such rules.”

    Perhaps it is an Acton ordinance. I’m familiar with this law because it was read to our campaigning group 10 years ago. I’ll check on it.

  20. Steve Stein

    Tony (if you’re still following this thread) –
    I checked with the town clerk today. It turns out to be a special case of the Acton sign ordinance, which contains a provision against unattended signs on public property. Standing on public property holding a sign is fine. Posting a sign on public property is not.

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