This story was originally published in 2021.

Every year as it gets later and later into November, people driving around the Garden State may notice some things where they shouldn't be at that time of year — namely, retread campaign signs from an election that passed weeks ago.

Who's in charge of taking these down, and by what time? An NJ.com story on sign theft in Watchung said the state has washed its hands of sign oversight, and "leaves the issue of political lawn signs to local governments."

Still, it often falls to state workers to remove signs from where they never should have been in the first place. A Paterson Times article from 2018 quoted the state Department of Transportation as saying its staff "routinely" takes down signs installed on public property adjacent to highways, which is prohibited by state law.

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A 2017 Nixle alert from West Windsor police, addressing sign theft similar to what went on in 2021 in Watchung, cited township code saying "temporary political signs associated with an election shall be removed no later than seven days after the election."

With regard to who's responsible for sign removal, West Windsor police at the time said only this, of potential thefts: "Like we were taught in kindergarten, if it doesn't belong to you, don't take it!"

Other Jersey municipalities have signage laws on the books that are a decade old or more. A 2008 ordinance in Fort Lee said "the owner or lawful occupant" of a property would "be responsible for compliance" with the guidelines for displaying political signs, but gave no indication as to a post-election removal deadline.

Parsippany-Troy Hills established in 1986 that a person responsible for placing a lawful sign would also be accountable for its discarding no later than 14 days after an election; same for Livingston, except in case of a runoff. A 2010 Observer piece cited a court case challenging Readington Township's five-day removal deadline, mentioning similar ordinances that were overturned in court, including only a two-day grace period in Franklin Lakes.

So, how long do you really have?

First, make sure your race has been officially called. Then, check with your municipality.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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