May municipalities regulate the size of election campaign signs and the duration that they can be displayed?
Although these types of sign regulations are addressed by state law, such regulations raise significant concerns about violating the First Amendment.
Generally, under state law no municipality may regulate the size, shape, placement or content of any sign containing a political message placed upon residential property during an election campaign period. Wis. Stat. sec. 12.04(3). The “election campaign period” is defined as the period beginning on the first day for circulation of nomination papers by candidates and ending on the day of the election. In the case of a referendum, it is the period beginning on the day on which the question to be voted upon is submitted to the electorate and ending on the day on which the referendum is held. Wis. Stat. sec. 12.04(1)(a).
An exception to the above prohibition is that municipalities may regulate the size, shape or placement of any sign if such regulation is necessary to ensure traffic or pedestrian safety. Also, a municipality may regulate the size, shape, or placement of any sign having an electrical, mechanical or audio auxiliary. Wis. Stat. sec. 12.04(4)(a). In addition, municipalities may regulate the size, shape or placement of a sign exceeding 11 square feet in area. Wis. Stat. sec. 12.04(4)(b).