Michael Trimble was wary of putting up political signs at his Amherst home.
And about seven hours after planting a sign in the yard supporting Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, police towed a car out of his yard in a situation he believes was politically motivated.
Then vandals and thieves struck several times, hitting not just the house Trimble owns but all up and down North Main Street. Each time, he’s procured replacement signs for himself and neighbors.
“It’s kind of scary,” he said, sharing how the problem has affected his eight-year-old son. “He’s scared because there’s people running around in the yard 1, 2, 3 in the morning. I think he’s confused.”
Trimble said he doesn’t really like either party. What bothers him isn’t who you support or what beliefs you hold — it’s that someone out there would trespass and vandalize to suppress homeowners’ views.
“It seems like this whole election this year, everybody is so hot-headed. The tension is through the roof,” he said.
About 1 a.m. last Thursday, he saw headlights shining through the window, a car parking on the grass, and a person heading in the direction of the sign, at least until Trimble hit him with a flood light.
Trimble said officers told him there wasn’t enough evidence to link him to sign thefts, only for losing control of his vehicle. As of Monday, Amherst police had not published a report stemming from the incident.
A black SUV showed up Saturday night and cleaned out all the political signs in the neighborhood, Trimble said. He drove to Lorain to get new ones.
Thefts have happened all over town.
South Lake Street resident April Pine said she had signs stolen from her yard both after the March primary election and earlier this month.
“I think it’s ridiculous and immature,” she said. “It’s just making me angry and kind of annoyed. Those signs cost money, and it’s like, I want my money back.”
While campaign offices typically give signs away, private companies also sell them. Pine said she paid between $20 and $30 for each of hers online.
Reports of thefts and spray paint problems have been rare locally with regard to signs supporting Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. There have been limited reports of damage to signs for Issue 21, a bond issue to build a new Amherst elementary school.
Trimble and Pine said thefts have not swayed their support one way or the other. Pine said her stolen sign only toughened her resolve to vote for Trump.
We talked to several other people who didn’t want to go on the record about their stolen campaign signs, including one Democrat whose Clinton sign was taken.
Most said they are afraid of retribution in the midst of a fiery presidential election standoff. All reported unease talking about the Trump-Clinton divide among family members; some talked about shouting matches or Facebook wars that burned relationships.
Just how many political signs have gone missing? National statistics are hard to come by, even for prior elections.
But an August look by CNN found Trump led Clinton as victim-in-chief. It featured home security camera footage of a number of thefts, most from drive-by offenders.
The First Amendment threat has gotten so out-of-hand that some folks have resorted to fencing their signs or mounting big surveillance cameras nearby.
The escalation comes as polls show Clinton heavily favored to be elected president.
Scrutiny of hundreds of polls by analyst Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight election forecast gives Clinton an 88 percent chance of winning the race. That includes two-to-one odds of Ohio going blue to give the Democratic nominee 18 crucial Electoral College seats.
When economic and historical voting data are factored into that equation, Clinton’s chances increase slightly.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.