I made an interesting discovery when investigating the history of interference with local elections. I filed a public records request with the Port Angeles Police Department seeking to determine how many reports they have on file for stealing or otherwise removing political campaign signs. Turns out they do not have such a file. Everything of that nature falls into an anodyne clump called, “Malicious Mischief.”
Historians who may want to sift through our political history would have a very difficult time discovering how many political campaigns were disrupted and or derailed by this kind of crime.
On the first occasion I reported this crime the stock answer was, “oh yeah, we get that all the time.” They didn’t seem too worked up about the fact that the entire community is victimized when you allow criminals to impose themselves on the electoral process. We have seen this on the national level and everyone from Washington to Florida is up in arms about “meddling” in America’s elections.
Speaking as a candidate who has been victimized by these criminals it can get pretty frustrating. You pay good money to purchase signs, work hard at finding places to put them—with property owners permission, and then just hours later find that your signs have been stolen.
The candidate’s First Amendment Rights are trampled, the homeowner’s Free Speech Rights are trampled, the money’s gone, the signs are gone and the local police reaction is “oh well, it happens all the time.”
The reason it “happens all the time” is because they do not enforce the laws against it. I have not yet seen an arrest nor a prosecution for stealing campaign signs. Old timers attest, “it happens all the time.” It will continue to happen until law enforcement takes the crime seriously, makes some arrests and the county prosecutor prosecutes the cases.
Now there is where the real problem rests. Lack of prosecution. I looked further into it. Seems it is usually the challengers’ signs that are stolen, seldom the incumbent. Why is that? Because the people in power want to stay in power. If there are goons skulking in the dark doing harm to the political challengers then why would anyone already in office want to stop them?
In the town where I grew up there was a group called “The Voters Council.” The town was about one third minority residents. The minority was mostly African-American. Each election cycle the Voters Council would sponsor candidate debates for the various offices. Which ever candidate made the largest donation to the group got their “endorsement.” The endorsement was a signal that all that candidate’s signs would be protected and any challengers signs would be removed in the night.
It was frustrating to the challengers and even more frustrating to the homeowners who hosted the signs of challengers. No change could come to the city as long as this process was in place. Incumbents held office usually as long as they desired and then picked their successor, taught them the ropes about the Voters Council and off they went to decades in office with fewer and fewer challengers.
The goon squads were paid off with “grants” for dubious activities, most of the money went to the organizers of the dubious activities and a small amount actually went to community-building activities. This to keep the chimera of respectability.
Each election cycle was met with excitement and anticipation. All these fresh-faced challengers would be out of the blocks in a sprint only to have their campaigns tripped up by thieves in the night.
Don’t think for a minute the local sign thieves are not so organized and inclined.
Until the local police begin to enforce the sanctity of our elections this will continue. But, here’s the nub, local police are there to support those in power. That is where their job security comes from, keeping the elected in office no matter who is best for the job.
I urge the local police to begin a new file with the designation:” Interference with Elections.” Then spend some overtime hours doing a still-watch on challenger’s campaign signs. This is how they catch drug deals going down, why not use the same proven tactics to ensure our elections are fair and uninterrupted by criminals?
For this to work we will need a new county prosecutor. The one we have now is pretty cozy with the sign thieves. That is largely why this sordid system endures, Mark Nichols has done the calculus and determined the system is working fine for him and his ilk–why disturb it.
There are over one hundred various cases involving infamous crimes referred by law enforcement agencies for prosecution to Nichols’ office which he has merely shrugged off without prosecution and without any explanation to the community as to why he refuses to prosecute them. The only reasonable answer is “job security.”
So long as the “powers that be” continue to provide aid and succor to the criminals, the community will be at the mercy of goons in the night. Law enforcement can only do half the job (if only they would.) Prosecution is where the change in behavior occurs.
Of this I am certain, the soul of this community is in the balance at election time. Dissident voices seeking to be heard above the din are almost already squelched in this community. It is up to us to protect and promote dissident voices who speak from their own desire to have a community we can all be proud of and where all voices are protected.