Both sides of the two-party debate are reporting a singularly un-American activity: the stifling of voices through campaign sign theft. (Putnam Sentinel/Steven Coburn-Griffis)
Both sides of the two-party debate are reporting a singularly un-American activity: the stifling of voices through campaign sign theft. (Putnam Sentinel/Steven Coburn-Griffis)

PUTNAM COUNTY — On November 8, 2016, during the final moments of then-candidate Donald Trump’s successful bid for the presidency, Putnam County registered voters turned out in record numbers. Of the over 82% turnout, nearly 80% supported the president’s run.

So it’s no surprise now, in 2020, Trump-Pence signs are ubiquitous here, often planted two or three to a property, and frequently accompanied by a campaign flag.

A relative rarity, though not entirely uncommon, are those yards bearing Biden-Harris signs. They crop up here and there — flowers or weeds, dependent on individual perspective.

But officials on both sides of the political divide have found common ground on a single point: neither sign — Biden-Harris or Trump-Pence — is as populous as they once were, as they should be. The signs, they say, are too often stolen.

“I’ve had three or four people come into our Victory Center and tell us people had swiped them, just the occasional person saying someone had stolen their sign,” Tony Schroeder, chair of the Putnam County Republican Party and a Republican designate on the Putnam County Board of Elections, reports. “I can’t imagine that it’s really blatant, but it’s disappointing to see.”

Likewise, on the other side of the fence — quite possibly literally — Biden-Harris signs are also disappearing.

“I have different properties around the county, and I did put some signs out, and they’ve been removing those signs,” Tony Wobler, chair of the Ohio Democratic Party in Putnam County, said.

Wobler reports he, and others, are adopting a proactive stance when it comes to the campaign signs in their yards, working to preserve their first amendment rights.

“A lot of people are taking them down at night and putting them back up in the morning,” Wobler said. “And you really shouldn’t have to do that. You shouldn’t have to go back every night to see if they’re still there. People just need to respect other people’s property, other people’s opinions.”

Even so, rather than allow the thefts to weigh on him, Wobler said he’s making a game of it.

“If I put one out and they steal it, then I put two out,” Wobler said, smiling, “and if they steal those I put three out. I have five out there right not on a two acre lot.”

Both men, Wobler and Schroeder, were quick to condemn the thefts.

“We discourge it,” Schroeder said. “It’s ridiculous. People like to show who they’re for, and everybody should be able to show who they’re for. I don’t mind the Biden signs at all.”

Weighing in on that subject — the condemnation — Sheriff Brian Siefker asserted such actions are, from the perspective of Ohio law, theft, and subject to criminal misdemeanor prosecution.

In fact, Sheriff Siefker reports a Van Wert man was caught defacing and stealing Trump-Pence signs in the county.

“We had some in Vaughnsville that were damaged and stolen,” Siefker said. “The (property owners) had a camera.”

According to Siefker, the individual involved removed his shirt in an effort to hide his face. Though successful in doing so, the man also sported distinctive tattoos. Deputy Greg Westrick lay in wait early one morning, spotted the suspect’s vehicle, and was able to identify him by the tattoos.

“So I think Greg’s going to have some charges on him,” Siefker said, then added a piece of advice. “Leave other people’s property alone. Just leave it alone. Everyone has the right to their opinion. Everyone has the right to their voice.”

From a purely democratic perspective, celebrating the unique opportunities open to all Americans, Schroeder offered one last comment.

“Let free expression reign,” he said. “Part of the beauty of living in our system is that everybody gets to have their own opinion and voice it any way they want.”