MOORHEAD — Maybe your dog barks or your security alarm goes off. You're awakened in the middle of the night to find a skinny kid with a backwards baseball cap hightailing it out of your yard and into a pickup with his buddy. He's just attempted to rip your political yard sign out of the grass, only to be jerked back by the bicycle chain and cement block attached to it.
That's exactly what happened early Sunday morning to one homeowner in Moorhead.
The Forum first reported about increased political yard sign theft in September. Both Democrats and Republicans have been seeing a rise in theft, particularly of Biden/Harris and Trump/Pence signs respectively. Now, just two weeks until election day, the thieves are still out in full force.
"I think it's actually gotten worse," said Athena Gracyk with the Clay County DFL. "We've had more calls and reports about signs being stolen. They come to our Facebook page, or they write on other pages, and talk about how their signs have been stolen, sometimes from right beside their door."
In fact, so many signs have been stolen this year, the Clay County Democrats are doing something they've never done before — they're opening their office doors and giving away free signs. Normally, to offset the cost of sign production and distribution, campaign offices will ask for donations. But not this year.
"It's because of all of the theft. We had such a rash of sign thefts early on. We've had hundreds stolen," she said. "So we are committed to making sure that everybody has a sign who wants a sign, and if their sign gets stolen again, they can come back as many times as they need to to get the signs."
Gracyk says she thinks the national Democratic leadership probably "took pity" on them after hearing about all of the sign thefts here, so Gracyk says they provided 2,000 more Biden/Harris signs to Clay County to give away free of charge. And it's not just Minnesotans and not just Biden/Harris signs up for grabs.
"We've had people come over from Fargo, and we've even had some Trump supporters come to get Collin Peterson signs," Gracyk said. "I'm okay with that. The main point for anyone, really, is that it's just wrong to have your sign stolen, and it feels like a violation."
One West Fargo woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, came into Moorhead on Tuesday to pick up "several signs" to replace the small Biden sign stolen from her lawn Monday evening about 8 p.m. She was looking out the window and saw what appeared to be young people.
"I have a huge window, and all our lights were on. They definitely saw me look out," she said, adding that she heard voices before they grabbed her Biden sign and ran back to their car. Her neighbor's security camera caught the moment when the car's headlights come on and the thieves drove away.
Gracyk says they're also trying to distribute signs into other parts of Greater Minnesota — Becker, Mahnomen, Norman, Wilkins and Polk counties, for example.
In September, the Clay County Republican Party also noticed a significant increase in the number of thefts and instances of vandalism against Republican political signs this election. And like Gracyk, they are offended, no matter whose sign is getting stolen.
"We wholeheartedly condemn any theft, vandalization or any other attempt to silence individuals' first amendment right to political speech," a spokesperson from the Clay County Republicans said.
Gracyk says stealing a sign is stealing someone's voice, robbing them of expressing their opinion.
"I'm just as angry at any Democrat who is stealing Trump signs as I am at all the Trump supporters who are stealing our signs," Gracyk said. "It's just wrong. It's anti-democratic. And it's not how a decent, civil society runs an election."
Political chairs from both parties encourage people to report any yard sign theft to local police. In many cases, they'll want some kind of video evidence to pursue it. Web cameras and doorbell security systems are being utilized to record thieves; the videos can be used to track down license plates and identify suspects. If you recognize the individuals in the above video, call the Moorhead Police Department.
In the meantime, here are some tips on how to protect your yard sign from getting stolen:
- Bring it indoors in the evening
- Place yard signs on windows inside your home
- Secure signs by using chains and cement blocks (as in the video above)
- Frame your signs in metal (above) and secure to other structures, including trees
- Smear Vaseline and glitter all over the sign. It will be harder to grab quickly and they'll end up covered in glitter. Others put sharp objects like barbed wire around their signs.
- Consider getting larger signs or flags, which are harder to steal
While getting a sign stolen feels like a violation, Gracyk says it's not the most important thing.
"I do want to emphasize that signs don't vote, people vote," she said. "The point is for all of us to engage and participate in this great, democratic tradition of voting all together for our national, state and local leaders.
To get free signs of Minnesota DFL candidates (while supplies last)
Clay County DFL office
11 9th Street South, Moorhead
Sunday to Friday - Noon to 6 p.m.
For Republican candidate sign availability
Contact the Clay County Republicans on Facebook @claymngop