Editorial: Everywhere a sign

Are elections signs really a good idea?

Election season means signs are springing up all over the south Island.

They’ve got a long history as a campaign tool, but few that would disagree the proliferation of brightly-coloured signs is, at best, unsightly.

The question is, do they do any good? They don’t contain any statement about what the candidate stands for, just a name and a plea for a vote. It’s supposed to build name recognition so that when an elector goes to check boxes, they will remember the name, if nothing else.

And if one sign does that for you, how much better is it to put out half a dozen in a row, and then repeat that on every piece of open public land you can find. And like Pepsi and Coke, the more of your own signs you can get out, the less room there is for competitors.

As a democratic ideal, that idea sucks. The last thing any democracy needs is someone casting a vote because they saw a name on lots of signs and liked it. And while the branding effect might work in federal — or even provincial — elections, where the candidate is farther removed from the voters, the people running in municipal elections are friends, neighbours and business people, often already well-known.

What we really need, to support a higher level of democracy, is more educated voters getting out to the polls to cast their ballots. Instead of spending money on election signs, both creating and distributing, wouldn’t it be better if candidates put that money to use educating people about the issues, and helping get them to the polls?

It does make electors feel good, that they are somehow supporting their candidate by putting out a sign. How many, though, are satisfied by this small action, then don’t actually get out to cast a vote?

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