FARMINGTON — As the country gears up for Election Day, local Democratic Party officials say Farmington is the epicenter of a most undemocratic process — political intimidation.

Since opening its office in August, the San Juan County Democratic Party has reported numerous political signs stolen or vandalized.

"We feel like it's an infringement on our freedom of speech," said Diane McCants, coordinator at the county Democratic Party headquarters. "It makes people in our community feel intimidated."

McCants said that her office has spent about $3,000 on signs since August.

"We are disappointed in a general lack of civility that would cause anyone to vandalize a political sign, regardless of party affiliation," said City Manager Rob Mayes. "This is totally unacceptable in a society based on civil discourse and freedom of expression."

McCants fears it will be difficult to recruit Democratic Party candidates to run in local races if the vandalism continues.

According to the latest statistics from the San Juan County Clerk's office, there are 13,866 registered Republicans and 6,831 registered Democrats in Farmington.

Individuals should feel free to express their political opinions regardless of affiliation, McCants said.

"Our community has to be better than that," she said. "We need to be able to practice our democracy without feeling intimidated. We've had so many people coming out, but they're afraid to put up signs.


Advertisement

"

Any detailed information on the vandalism should be reported to law enforcement officers, said San Juan County Republican Party Chairman Pat Cordell.

"We certainly do not condone damaging or destroying any signs," he said. "It's criminal damage to property."

Political vandalism is not unique to Farmington. Problems continue to be reported across the nation.

Reports of yard signs offering a $100 reward for information about political sign vandalism or destruction are popping up in Clark and Cowlitz counties in Washington state.

And the problem is not confined to Democratic Party candidates. The Las Cruces Sun-News reported that signs of at least three GOP candidates have been vandalized or removed in Dona Ana County.

San Juan County Democratic Party staff and volunteers have been working with the city of Farmington and local law enforcement, said Gloria Lehmer, a volunteer with Organizing for America, a Democratic National Committee community organizing project.

"I feel like the mayor's response was positive," she said. "The Police Department has also responded well and has given us case numbers."

Anyone who witnesses a sign being vandalized is reminded not to approach the individual, said Farmington police Lt. Taft Tracy. Instead, witnesses are encouraged to get a detailed description of the individual including race, clothes worn, vehicle driven and, if possible, a license plate number.

"The more information we have, the higher probability we have that they'll be caught," he said.