Tennesseean jailed for campaign sign theft bailed out by rival

A Tennessee state representative was jailed after failing to appear to talk with the Sheriff's Office about video showing him removing a rival's campaign signs. 

Mark Humphrey/AP/File
Republican state Rep. Curry Todd (r.) appears in Nashville, Tenn., in January 2013. Mark Lovell, one of Representative Todd’s opponents in Thursday’s Republican primary race, tells news outlets that he posted a $100 bond for the lawmaker on Tuesday as a 'good deed.'

A Tennessee representative jailed for removing rival campaign signs in a Republican primary was bailed out on Tuesday by $100 from the very candidate whose signs he had taken down.

"Someone called me and said Curry Todd is still in jail and nobody's posted his bond yet," said Mark Lovell, one of thee people challenging Tennessee's Republican state Rep. Curry Todd in the upcoming East Shelby County race, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. "I thought, we don't need our state representative in jail. He can get out and the judge can decide what to do about it later." 

Representative Todd has entered a not guilty plea, WREG Memphis reports. 

In mid-July, a staffer for Mr. Lovell captured shaky video of Todd, who first joined the Tennessee legislature in 1998, removing Lovell campaign signs at an intersection. 

"Yes, I did pick up the signs the other day, and I took 'em," Todd told The Commercial Appeal. "I wasn't trying to hide anything. It was daylight."

Todd told WREG Memphis that he had permission from developers in the area to promote his campaign, without rivals' signs, on their properties.

"They said you have permission to take them down, my employees take them down or anybody else can take them down," he told the station.

Lovell, however, told WREG that he had confirmed with the owners that Curry did not have their permission. 

Campaign signs – and their illicit removal – are one of the oldest tricks in the campaign playbook. Typically, such signs are allowed on private property if the owner grants permission. Only government or law enforcement officials can remove signs from public areas; the owner or an authorized individual should take them off of private property. 

The Shelby County Sheriff's Office had attempted to speak with Todd about the incident, but says he did not appear, leading to Tuesday's arrest. Todd has been charged with misdemeanor theft under $500, according to the News Sentinel. 

He didn't sit in jail for long. Whether trying to ensure a clean election or from a desire to do a good turn, Lovell posted the $100 bail on Tuesday.

The extra publicity might have helped Lovell as much as the signs would have. Although some doubt the effectiveness of signs in a political race, research suggests they help with ever-important name recognition. They do little to influence a decided voter, but they can be very useful in a local election when voters may not have a thorough grasp of all candidates, according to guidelines from Nelson James, the chief operating officer of Signs.com. 

"While campaign signs may not inspire instant confidence in a candidate per se, they can help uninformed voters connect a candidate’s name to friends or family members that they trust," Mr. James writes. "In this way, candidates can use signage to tap personal networks that are powerful sources of vote motivation."

Either way, Lovell said he doesn't expect to get the $100 back again.

"It's like lending money to your nephews. You don't expect to get it back," he told the Sentinel. "I figured it was a good deed."

The election is Thursday, and Todd has an appointment with the judge the following Tuesday.

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