The day before the Nov. 3 General Election, an active member of the local Republican party was allegedly caught stealing campaign signs near a Scottsdale mosque that was also serving as a county voting center.
According to a report filed by Scottsdale police officers, Eric Kurland, a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for the legislature in LD 23, called police after spotting someone removing signs outside of the Islamic Center of the North East Valley.
In the days leading up to the election, individuals working on the Kurland campaign told the Progress signs they posted outside of the center went missing frequently.
But Kurland said his signs were not the only targets Nov. 2.
Kurland, who confronted the woman and recorded the incident, alleged she had taken down signs for school board candidate Julie Cieniawski, City Council candidate Tammy Caputi and Joe Romack, a Republican write-in candidate running in LD23.
A screenshot of the recording posted by Romack shows a woman wearing Trump 2020 visor standing near a cluster of signs. Cieniawski, Caputi and Romack signs can be seen lying at her feet.
Kurland also found two of his signs in a nearby recycling bin, according to police.
A Scottsdale officer identified the woman as Jennifer Mayer or Jennifer Williams Mayer by cross referencing the recording with a photo on file with Arizona Motor Vehicle Services, according to the report.
Romack, a former Vice Chairman of the LD23 Republican Party, told the Progress that Mayer is a LD 23 Precinct Committeeman.
The Progress was unable to reach Mayer for comment and the LD23 GOP did not respond to a request for comment.
That was not the first time that police were called on members of the local Republican party for sign-related hijinks.
On Nov. 1, two Kurland volunteers called police after two members of the local party allegedly attempted to stop them from putting up signs near a polling place at 77th Place and McCormick Pkwy., according to field interview filed by an officer.
According to the interview, Mark Greenburg and Jennifer McDowell alleged they were confronted by Joe Junker and Yvonne Cahill while they tried to install signs.
Junker is a Maricopa County Executive Committee Member at Large, LD23 Precinct Committeeman and McCormick Ranch Precinct Captain, an online sounding board for the Republican Party in Arizona.
Cahill, Junker’s wife, is an Arizona GOP member-at-large and also worked on Chaplik’s campaign, according to campaign finance reports.
Junker and Cahill allegedly “began shining flashlights in their faces demanding to know what they were doing and who they were…” and allegedly told the volunteer “his signs were false and was ‘blocking’ the pathway for them to walk by,” according to the field interview.
The report states that the officer later spoke with Junker, who defended his actions.
“Joseph informed me that they had signs stolen and damaged lately, so they were trying to prevent that,” the interview states.
The officer also asked Junker why he did not leave after finding out the volunteers were installing, not destroying, signs and that “he stated he was trying to tell them that their signs were inappropriate and fake,” according to the interview.
“We informed Joseph that everyone was entitled to free speech and they were legally allowed to post signs,” the officer wrote.
The Progress was unable to reach Junker or Cahill for comment and the Arizona Republican Party did not respond to a request for comment.
There were many other incidents involving signs this year in Scottsdale this year.
The Scottsdale Police Department filed 22 reports of stolen or vandalized signs as of Oct. 23, according to department data.
That’s a big jump over previous elections cycles.
According to the department, it filed only three similar reports in 2018 and two reports in 2016.
“Every incident of damage to a political campaign sign that is reported to the Police, or observed by an officer is investigated by the district staff and our Criminal Intelligence Unit,” Sgt. Ben Hoster said.
“In some cases, a candidate’s signs are targeted across the city. When the vandalism has reached this level, and appears to be a particular pattern of crime, the police department has deployed tactics and resources to attempt to identify the suspect or suspects involved. This includes the use of covert surveillance and the placement of cameras,” Hoster said.
According to Scottsdale candidates, theft and vandalism of political signs was bipartisan this year.
Councilman Guy Phillips, an incumbent Republican who appears to have lost his bid for re-election, alleged that companies hired by other campaigns have taken down a competitor’s signs and replaced them.
“Mischief has always been around but it appears now people are being hired to destroy, deface and remove opponents’ signs,” Phillips said.
According to Scottsdale Police, this year “14 of 22 incidents were reported theft or damage to Guy Phillips campaign signs.”
Kurland, a Democrat who also ran for legislature in 2018, said he noticed an uptick this year as well and said his campaign lost around 10 percent of its signs to theft.
Kurland’s opponent Chaplik also said his campaign lost signs to theft and vandalism.
Chaplik told the Progress he has lost over 100 campaign signs and rebar at a cost of over $8,000 and the incidents are currently being investigated by Scottsdale Police.
Chaplik also alleged some of his signs had been replaced by Kurland signs, citing “eye-witness accounts”.
“It is an ongoing matter and they were more than happy to investigate my signs and all the other complaints they have been receiving,” Chaplik said.
Chaplik said Scottsdale Police have video of two unidentified men removing his signs.
Scottsdale Police confirmed it does have a police report that contains video in connection with a theft of Chaplik signs.
Despite the influx of campaign commercials, mailers and other marketing every cycle, those political signs play a significant role, especially in down-ballot races.
“The evidence would suggest that they matter for things like name recognition,” said Dr. Anand Sokhey, a political scientist at Colorado University. “They may matter for things like turnout and margins, especially in information environments where there’s less political information down ticket type races.”
Sokhey, a social scientist, is the co-author of the book Politics on Display: Yard Signs and the Politicization of Social Spaces, which included research on campaign yard signs and neighborhood politics based on street-level observations and research in two suburbs and a major metropolitan area.
Sokhey said it is difficult to tell if there are actually more incidents of sign vandalism or theft this year or if people are just hyper-aware of it.
“I don’t know whether or not there’s actually more or whether we’re hearing about it more,” he said. “We may be hearing about it more because of social media saturation and because we’re all spending a lot of time in our residential areas because of COVID.”
Sokhey said the proliferation of doorbell cameras and other portable surveillance has made it easier for individuals to record vandalism or theft, which can then go viral on sites like Twitter or Nextdoor.
“And so there’s more surveillance of our social debates,” he said.