Newton County residents can always tell when election season rolls around because of the campaign signs that sprout like mushrooms on street corners, private yards and businesses.
But signs can also serve as indicators of the level of passion and interest in an election campaign.
Local candidates often spend a good portion of their coffers on advertising and campaign literature, which can range anywhere from $3 for smaller signs to $550 for larger, 16-square-foot signs.
Several candidates, in a variety of local races, have reported their campaign signs have been regularly knocked down, stolen or even damaged
Doris Strickland, who is running for tax commissioner, said she's lost about $275 worth of signs, mostly in the eastern part of the county and several other areas, since they've went up in mid-May. At first, she said, some of the signs would simply be knocked down or pulled up. She knew it couldn't be the wind because they had been firmly driven into the ground by a male campaign volunteer with a hammer. Then they started disappearing altogether, several repeatedly. She said it's gotten to the point where some of her friends have put up security cameras to try and catch the vandals red-handed.
"It's a bit childish," said Strickland, who works as the director of the Covington United Way. "I feel like if they want them that bad, go for it. You don't know who's doing it so you can't accuse anyone."
DeKalb County Sheriff's Deputy Chris Cowan, who is running for the Newton County Sheriff's seat, said many of his signs have been pulled out of the ground along Ga. Highway 212 and Salem Road during the last several weeks, and about 15 to 20 have been stolen or destroyed altogether.
"It's just one of the games some people play. They think they're helping their candidate, but they're hurting their candidate." said Cowan, who said he has contacted other candidates when he's seen their signs knocked down.
Cowan said nothing like this happened when he ran for the Republican sheriff's nomination in 2004 against then-incumbent Sheriff Joe Nichols, who won by a landslide.
Emmett Denby, who is running on the Democratic ticket for the board of commissioners chair, said he's had fewer signs taken this time around than when he ran for BOC chair in 2004 against incumbent Aaron Varner, but reported about 50 signs had been stolen from businesses and private properties, mostly in the eastern portion of the county.
"I can't keep signs up there," said Denby, who filed a sheriff's office report for signs that disappeared two days in a row at Henderson's Grocery Store.
He also described finding the shot up remains of several of his campaign signs that had been used for target practice at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center.
"I've got a good sense of humor," Denby said. "I try to not make it into more than it is."
Still, he admitted it gave him a funny feeling to see his picture shot to pieces.
"I would appreciate it if the general public sees someone vandalizing other people's signs, to report it," Denby added. "They could support democracy itself by reporting something like this."
Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton reported that signs have been taken from the private properties of some of his supporters as well, starting a couple weeks ago.
"They're pretty bold and brazen because they're going into people's yards," Cotton said. "If anybody thinks they're helping another candidate, they're mistaken."
Signs have also been going up in the windows of many businesses, who juggle being fair to all customers and candidates. Tricity Cleaners owner Thomas Nguyen, who had several campaign signs in his window, including candidates opposing each other, and said he was not a political person and welcomed every party. Pete Smith, the owner of Uptown Cleaners across the street, echoed those sentiments, but most of the signs up in his window were from long-time customers.
"If someone is willing to ask, I'm willing to help them," he said.
The county ordinances regulating campaign signs were amended in May to be more in line with state ordinances, removing a county specification that required signs to be up no earlier than 60 days before a primary or election and no later than 10 days after the election.
Political campaign signs are still required to be no more than five feet high and 16 square feet in area, with the name and phone number of the person responsible for the sign, according to zoning ordinance section 525-025. Signs are prohibited in public right-of-ways, within 100 feet of an intersection and 10 feet of roadway pavement, and can be removed by the county if found to be in violation of the regulations.