FARMINGTON — The town has suspended an ordinance restricting political lawn signs after the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine warned that such a law is unconstitutional.

Incumbent Republican House candidate Lance Harvell said he had distributed about 150 signs promoting his candidacy around town in early September and was told by the town that they should be removed.

“A political sign is an expression of political speech,” he said. “Political speech on private property is the core of the First Amendment.”

According to Town Manager Richard Davis, the ordinance was misinterpreted to stipulate that political lawn signs cannot be displayed earlier than 42 days prior to an election. This is true on public property, but it was misinterpreted in the ordinance as applying to private property.

“They were all on private property. Either my own or people had taken them and put them up on their own,” Harvell said.

Lewiston and Alfred have similar ordinances cited by the Maine ACLU as being unconstitutional.

“Political speech is at the core of the First Amendment,” said Shenna Bellows, the executive director of the ACLU of Maine. “In Maine communities, political lawn signs play a crucial role in political campaigns, so we want to make sure it’s clear that people have the right to display political signs.”

The Farmington ordinance has been in place since Nov. 18, 1999, and also says that signs must be removed within 72 hours after the election.

“I think these towns have realized this is unconstitutional and have stopped enforcing it,” said Alysia Melnick, a lawyer with the ACLU of Maine. “However, it’s important that these ordinances are not only no longer enforced but that they are also overturned.”

“As soon as we realized the ordinance was in violation of the First Amendment, we suspended it,” Davidson said.

He also said it probably will be discussed at the annual Town Meeting in March.

“This has been in the ordinance for a long time, but I think was probably overlooked,” he said. “The issue never came to the forefront before, but I think with the presidential election this year, people have been particularly invested in getting their signs up as soon as possible.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
[email protected]

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