From a motion sensor camera to a $1,000 reward, local political supporters are going to great lengths to catch those who are vandalizing and stealing candidate signs in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 4 presidential election.
Monday morning, outgoing state Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, and Routt County Republican Central Committee Chairman Vance Halvorson, worked - for the second time - to replace a 4-foot-by-8-foot McCain-Palin sign outside Halvorson's office along U.S. Highway 40.
After a sign was stolen a few weeks ago, the two went to great lengths to prevent another theft. The four steel posts holding the sign were encased in concrete; they affixed the sign to the posts with thick steel bolts; and they also attached strips of steel to the top and bottom of the sign to prevent it from being removed with a chainsaw. Halvorson set up a light to illuminate the sign in the dark, and police officers agreed to do extra patrols in the area.
On Monday, Halvorson discovered someone had used spray paint to write the word "suck" across the sign in giant black letters.
"I guess they felt last night it would just be easier to deface it as they did," Steamboat Springs police Capt. Joel Rae said. "It's pretty low when somebody goes out of their way to do that."
Halvorson and Taylor's disappointment was coupled with outright anger.
"This is kind of ridiculous," Taylor said. "It's a sad state of affairs when we're reduced to a state where people hate so much."
The sign cost $40, Taylor had to drive to Eagle to pick it up, and the two estimate they spent $150 to $200 on the materials to set it up.
"We're talking about something that's gone too far," Halvorson said. "It's more than just a sign; it's our right of free speech."
Dave Thiemann, who works in an office adjacent to Halvorson's and described himself as an independent voter, also was upset.
"It's ugly," Thiemann said. "You can vote for anybody you want, but you better uphold and preserve our right of free speech. That's one of our greatest rights is the right to disagree with each other. That right comes with responsibility; you allow the other person to express themselves freely and openly."
Halvorson said a $1,000 reward is being offered to anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest or conviction of the person or people who either stole or defaced the sign.
Rae said political signs are commonly tampered with in big election years. People caught can be charged with a number of misdemeanor crimes including criminal mischief, theft, defacing property and trespassing. No one has been caught stealing or vandalizing political signs in the city or Routt County this year.
According to the Greeley Tribune, a Greeley man was arrested last week on suspicion of stealing dozens of election signs.
Ken Klinger, an investigator with the Routt County Sheriff's Office, said he thinks theft and vandalism of political signs this fall is significantly higher than it was in previous years, and that signs for Republican candidate Sen. John McCain are being disproportionately targeted in comparison to those in support of Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama.
"I've not received a complaint from anybody about an Obama sign being torn down," Klinger said.
Klinger said most of the county's complaints have come from Routt County Road 36 near Taylor's home and that the Sheriff's Office has put extra patrols on the road. He said he knows of one McCain supporter who has placed a motion sensor camera on his sign to help identify anyone who messes with it.
Topher Simon, deputy field organizer at the Obama campaign office in Steamboat, said he was disappointed to see the defacement of the McCain-Palin sign at Halvorson's office.
"I was disappointed with that because it's not very constructive," Simon said.
Simon said local Democrats also are reporting stolen or damaged signs and that students at Steamboat Springs High School have had their bumper stickers defaced "in very offensive ways."
Torey Wodnik, who volunteered for the Obama office waiving signs at the corner of Third Street and Lincoln Avenue on Monday, said her mom and a neighbor have both had signs stolen as well.