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Political thievery means signs go fast

Diana Travis: ‘You've got to let people have their say out in the open.'

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

Political sign thieves have hit Diana Travis' front yard twice.

The first came during a raid of six Obama campaign signs along Travis' south Charlotte block last week. Travis had a new sign up within days – one she kept a little closer to the house. But that one disappeared while she was running errands on Wednesday.

Now she's set up a sign-making minifactory in her house. She's painted a few homemade signs blue, and stenciled “Obama” in large letters.

She staked a new one in her yard Thursday and stockpiled extra supplies in case the thieves strike again.

“I am appalled,” she said, just before sitting down to watch Wednesday's presidential debate. “You've got to let people have their say out in the open.”

Police don't keep records of how many political signs are stolen during election season. Many victims from across the Charlotte area – both Republicans and Democrats, and some who've put up political signs for decades – say this is the first time they've had any stolen.

Many say their signs disappeared in the last few weeks of the heated presidential campaign.

“We're getting constant reports of people whose signs are stolen,” said Joan Thieda, executive director of Obama's Davidson office. She said she hasn't kept count of how many people have come for replacement signs, but “it's not a small number and … seems to be pretty widespread.”

Brent Woodcox, a spokesman for the N.C. Republican Party, said McCain's campaign offices have been doling out tips along with signs.

“We have been saying you may want to bring it in your house at night or maybe even put it on your house,” he said. “But if somebody is going to drive around in a van at night stealing signs, there's little you can do to stop them.”

Police say sign thefts are hard to investigate, and often go unreported.

“My wife was mugged in July in broad daylight and there was nothing (police) could do about that,” said Dwayne Burks, a Gastonia man whose McCain-Palin sign disappeared last Friday. “What are they going to do about a sign?”

He didn't call police, but said he plans to put another out before Election Day.

There have been few reports of vandalism at houses where signs are swiped. And signs supporting local and state candidates have been largely untouched.

If anything, both Obama and McCain supporters say the thefts are a sign that their opponents are getting desperate.

Wendy Smith's Obama sign was stolen from the front yard of her Stanfield home last week. Her daughter and grandchildren were sitting on the front porch when a man in an SUV stopped, uprooted the sign and sped off.

The man didn't say anything to Smith's protesting daughter or harm anyone, but the incident left Smith with a bad feeling.

“I felt intimidated,” she said. “… I felt like my First Amendment was being violated.”

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