While COVID-19 precautions have kept the Republican primary race in Cache County fairly low-key this spring, one perennial activity on the political landscape appears to have ramped up during the pandemic: campaign sign thefts.
Several candidates say the problem is worse than it’s ever been, and this has led Cache County Republican Party Chairman Chris Booth to make an appeal to the community to help control the behavior.
“All of the primary candidates are having signs taken,” Booth said. “Most of it is probably high school kids playing games, but they need to know it’s an expensive game, because we’re talking thousands of dollars.”
Candidates agree a lot of the theft has the look of teen hijinks — like an incident in Smithfield where dozens of stolen signs wound up in one yard — but they also suspect politics may play a role in some instances.
“Oh my goodness. On one street alone in Hyde Park I lost over $300 in signs,” Utah House of Representatives candidate Mike Petersen said, explaining that he has put out a combination of small, inexpensive signs and larger signs that cost $130 a piece. “I’ll put one up, and two days later it’s gone … over and over again. I have a hard time thinking those are a bunch of teenage kids pulling pranks.”
Petersen was quick to add, however, that he doesn’t think his opponent, incumbent Rep. Val Potter, has anything to do with the problem.
“Val would not be doing that," Petersen said. "I don’t want to insinuate that. I think it’s just people who are pretty passionate about how they feel about things.”
Potter, likewise, has been seeing a lot of sign thefts and wonders if some of it might be politically motivated, but he isn’t pointing a finger either.
“My signs have been stolen at an outrageous rate. It’s rampant,” Potter said. “This year’s been bad because the thefts have been over a period of weeks. We’ve lost a couple signs here, and then three nights later we’ve put a couple of them back and a few more will be gone, then a few more will be gone. But I realize other candidates have lost signs too. It’s a strange year.”
One observer speculated the surge in sign vandalism might be related to the suspension of school this spring and a lot of pent up energy among youths created by stay-at-home recommendations.
As it happens, signage has proven to be a key component in this year’s campaign since traditional electioneering through public appearances, handshaking and the like was quashed by coronavirus concerns. Most candidates have also adapted by being very active on social media, email and phones.
This week, they got some extra exposure in an election forum sponsored by the Cache Chamber of Commerce that is available for viewing on the organization’s Facebook page.
The Cache County Republican Party plans its own Facebook forum on Wednesday from 6 to 8:45 p.m. In addition to Potter and Petersen, who are vying for the District 3 seat in the Utah House, the forum will feature questions for Utah Senate District 25 incumbent Lyle Hillyard and challenger Chris Wilson.
A third local election race on the June 30 GOP primary ballot features Cache County Council south-district candidates Mark Ensign and Nolan Gunnel. They will not be included in Wednesday’s forum.
Ballots for the primary will be sent out June 9. All registered voters received a letter from Cache County Clerk Jill Zollinger on May 8 asking them to indicate their preference for either a Republican or Democratic ballot. The letters must be responded to by June 19.
The only choice in the Cache County Democratic primary will be between First Congressional District candidates Darren Parry and Jamie Cheek. On the Republican side, Cache voters will not only decide three local races but pick from several individuals vying for the GOP governor and lieutenant governor nominations.
There have been reports in the Salt Lake City news media of many Democrats crossing over to vote in the Republican gubernatorial primary, since history suggests there is a strong likelihood the GOP nominee will go on to win in the general election.
Zollinger said this has not been the case so far in Cache County.
The June 30 primary will be conducted entirely by mail with no polling locations, as per a provision passed by the Legislature earlier this year. There will be ballot drop-off locations, however, and voters can mail their ballots as late as election day.
To avoid confusion, Zollinger is asking anyone who doesn’t receive their ballot in the week after June 9 to contact her office. “On election day it’s going to be harder to help people,” she said.