Voters headed to the polls at St. Catherine Labouré church in Wheaton on Thursday on the first day of early primary voting didn’t notice anything amiss in the usual sea of candidates’ signs around the building.
But hours earlier, dozens upon dozens of the signs had been found uprooted and piled flat on the grass in what the attorney for the Montgomery County Board of Elections called “a form of vandalism.”
The board’s secretary, Mary Ann Keeffe, said she went to the church after receiving an email about the signs, about two hours before early voting started at 10 a.m.
“It was pretty shocking,” she said. “The place was a mess. . . . It was a mischievous act, to be sure. It caused us concern because nothing like this has happened before.”
Kevin Karpinski, the board’s attorney, said election law allows candidates to post signs around early voting centers beginning at 5 p.m. the night before voting begins.
“To disturb the signs when they have the right to have them placed there is, to some extent, a form of vandalism,” he said.
Keeffe, who said none of the signs were damaged or destroyed, said Montgomery County police were informed of what happened.
Police spokeswoman Lucille Baur said police took a report and officers plan to patrol the area overnight for the duration of early voting, which runs 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through Thursday.
The identity of the person or people who pulled up the signs remains unclear, although campaign volunteer Monika Blaumueller said she saw a woman systematically pulling up signs at the church early Thursday.
Blaumueller took photos of the signs in piles but didn’t place any signs for the candidate she is supporting, Democratic at-large council hopeful Loretta Garcia.
“I felt they were just going to get taken down, so I went to the next place on the list,” she said.
The political field is crowded this year in Montgomery, where term limits and the new public campaign finance system have combined to produce dozens of hopefuls running for county office, each with his or her own campaign signs.
Signs for candidates in state races also crowd each of the county’s 11 early-voting sites.
This is the first year the church is being used as an early-voting site, Keeffe said. A woman who answered the phone at St. Catherine on Friday said there was no one available to speak about the incident, and a call to the pastor of the church was not returned.
Dave Kunes, chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, said he went to the site Thursday morning to help replant the signs.
He said he doesn’t think the incident will be repeated.
“All the signs went back up before voting started, so hopefully that’s discouragement enough,” he said.