With election primaries set for June 10, signs will soon start dotting roadsides throughout the Lowcountry encouraging residents to vote for this candidate or that.
But where these signs can be put - and what they can say - has become a hot topic in Berkeley County, where officials agreed that the law governing them violates the right of free speech and limits political discourse.
"It's just not a very sound ordinance and needs to be redone," county Supervisor Dan Davis said of the county's law. "Council decided we are not going to enforce any of the provisions."
That opens the door this year for candidates and political groups to post whatever they want, wherever they want, county officials said. That includes a group called RINO Hunt, which targets GOP candidates it believes are "Republican In Name Only" by placing signs next to candidates' signs.
In 2005, the county passed a law allowing political signs to be placed in rights of way in unincorporated areas within 45 days of an election as long as they support a candidate or ballot measure.
Now, some council members and county Planning Director Eric Greenway are concerned about the legality of that law.
"I think it is not legal," said Greenway. "However, it is a law on our books."
Council members agreed that the ordinance needs to be revised, but since it would require three readings and a public hearing - and there's not enough time to do it before the primaries - the Council will take action after the election, Davis said.
When Greenway brought up the issue at a Council meeting in March, some thought the proposal was an effort to tie the hands of the RINO Hunt group.
"Elimination of 'RINO' signs is what this is all about," Councilman Ken Gunn, chairman of the public safety committee, said at a committee meeting in April. "This is not a well-timed move, in my opinion. Berkeley County, in my opinion, would be ill-advised to begin dictating what can or cannot be printed on a sign."
In 2012, Gunn won the District 3 seat after defeating incumbent Bob Call, who was one of the candidates targeted by the white signs with red "RINO" lettering above an arrow with "Republican In Name Only" in smaller print below.
"Those signs were pulled up quite regularly," said Nancy Corbin, a member of the loosely organized local group. "We'd find them in the ditch and put them back up or replace them. We had quite a time keeping them in."
She said she has been told the county is not trying to stop her group's efforts.
"I agree that the county has the right to determine dates of when signs can be put up and taken down, and where on public property they can be placed, but I do not agree that they have the right to determine content of those signs," she said. "I think we've got it ironed out now. I think they all agreed that they don't have the authority to dictate political signs."
Greenway said his main concern was other nontraditional signs that popped up around Berkeley and the rest of the county during recent elections.
"The RINO signs was not the reason I brought up the issue," he said. "During the last election we had hand-painted plywood signs and I didn't think those signs met the definition of a political sign."
Corbin said she is relieved to hear that because she already has plans to target certain candidates this year, including Davis, who had no comment about the signs.
"They will go up," Corbin said. "If the county chooses to remove them, then I will have to take action accordingly to guarantee my personal First Amendment rights to free speech.
Charleston County has a law similar to Berkeley County's, Charleston County spokesman Shawn Smetana said. Political signs - defined as those that identify or urge support for a specific political issue, political party or candidate - cannot be posted more than 45 days before an election. The council has not discussed whether the law is legal, Smetana said.
Dorchester County does not limit when signs can be posted, where they can be put or what they can say, Planning Director Alec Brebner said.
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.
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