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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The 2020 election has caused friction between neighbors, fears of vandalism, theft of political signs

Rita Reeve had never put a political sign in her yard.

She normally doesn’t donate to political campaigns.In 2016, she had misgivings about both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

This year is different.

She recently purchased her third Joe Biden sign, replacing one that was stolen, and has donated to several Democratic Senate campaigns.

She said she doesn’t care much for politics, but after months of being stuck inside and grieving the death of a family member due to COVID-19, she’s ready to vote for a candidate that takes public health seriously.

“This has tipped me over the edge of being a middle-of-the-road person to a progressive,” Reeve said.

She said she’s hoping Biden will make politics “boring again” and once he’s elected, life and the news cycle will go back to normal.

She also believes this election is a crossroads. Most of her neighbors and those who put out political signs across Spokane, whether for Trump or for Biden, agree.

The anxiety about this election has driven many to purchase signs for the first time, donate to campaigns or continue to replace signs that were stolen or vandalized. Many Trump supporters said they decided to use flags instead of signs to show their support, because they’re more difficult to steal or vandalize.

Barbie Downing, a construction manager in northeast Spokane, has a Trump flag flying from her porch, which has been a source of friction between her and at least one neighbor who found the flag offensive.

To Downing the flag and her support for Trump is about his focus on the economy and promise to keep jobs in the United States. Downing said she wasn’t confident when she voted for Trump in 2016. But four years later, she said she’s worried what could happen if she doesn’t vote for Trump.

“We’re at a big crossroad,” she said. “It could go one way or the other and I’m genuinely fearful if Biden gets elected, because of the direction America will go at that point in time. That’s scary to me.”

Downing has always leaned right, but some of her beliefs intensified after she lost her job and nearly had to move in with family during the 2008 financial crisis. She said she worries that under Biden, more jobs could go overseas and fears he may stack the court or make other permanent changes to the structure of American government that will last far longer than his presidency.

Akua Lum, a landlord who lives on the lower South Hill, made her own signs focusing on women’s issues, saying she hopes signs focused on women’s rights won’t make her a target for vandalism or theft. One of her signs reads “the vote of a lifetime,” one reads “women are strong” and the last sign honors suffragette Alice Paul.

When she was younger Lum volunteered for Richard Nixon’s campaign and in 2016 attempted to phone bank for Clinton, but had trouble using the technology. She said she wanted to get more involved in politics this year and do more to support Biden, but is at high risk for complications from COVID-19 and hasn’t been able to do as much as she hoped out of concern for her health.

She said she’s gone all out with the few things she can do, making political signs and wearing a lace collar in honor of her hero, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She also donated to the reelection campaign of Democratic Senator Doug Jones of Alabama, who beat Roy Moore in a special election for the seat in 2018.

She said she’s doing what she can, and worries that Ginsburg’s legacy could be erased if Trump and Republican senators win the election.

“Everything is at stake,” she said.

Michael Sciortino, has lived in his northeast Spokane home for decades and has a Trump flag flying from his porch. He said normally he wouldn’t second -guess displaying a political sign or flag, but said the rhetoric and political division in 2020 is different than anything he remembers.

“This is the first time I felt afraid to display my affiliation to a party,” he said.

He said he decided to display a Trump flag instead of a sign thinking it would be harder to steal.

Since putting the flag out, he said his door bell camera has captured video of a group of children coming up to his porch to try and snatch the flag and he’s clashed with neighbors over it on the Next Door app.

In the past he’s supported Democrats, voting for Bill Clinton, but now he supports Trump and plans to vote Republican this year.

Sciortino was in the Air Force for 22 years and retired due to health issues and is a naturalized citizen. He was born in Honduras, lived in Spain as a child and immigrated to the United States at a very young age.

He said he supports Trump’s immigration policies, feels that Republicans have friendlier policies to veterans and believes that Trump has done more for the economy than Democrats.

Perry District resident Gary Neal voted for Trump in 2016 and said his support has intensified in the last four years. He called this election a turning point and decided to go all out for the 2020 election, despite what his neighbors think.

Neal has two Trump flags and a sign for the website “We Believe We Vote,” which provides information for voters who look at elections through a biblical lens. He also bought a Trump flag for his neighbors to display at their house.

His home is along an arterial and near a bus stop and cars frequently slow down, sometimes to the point of becoming a traffic hazard, to look at his flags. He said passing drivers often give him a thumbs up or sometimes flip him off or yell.

He said he also recently received a typed note in his mailbox, which he believes may have come from someone in the neighborhood. It outlined some of Trump’s actions that were sexist and racist and the writer told Neal that Trump flags are a symbol of fear for many.

Neal said he follows the Bible, is not sexist or racist and doesn’t believe Trump is either. He said if his neighbors disagree with him, they should come and talk to him.

“Those things are offensive,” Neal said. “I’m a Trump supporter, so what you’re calling Trump, you’re calling me.”

He said he doesn’t always like the things Trump puts on Twitter, but supports him for the judges he’s nominated to the courts, his support for gun rights and economic policies. He said he believes this election is more important than ever for him to continue his support and advocacy because if Biden wins, Democrats will likely work to roll back as many of Trump’s policies as they can.

Colleen Lewenfus, an occupational therapist who lives on the South Hill, said this is the first year she and her husband have displayed a political sign.

She said during the 2016 election she lived in LA and there didn’t seem to be a point to displaying a sign in a strongly Democratic area. Now the couple lives in Spokane, they display both a Black Lives Matter sign and a Biden campaign sign. She said they are now on their second Black Lives Matter sign, which they display in the window, because their first was stolen.

She said living in Eastern Washington the couple has also been exposed to a side of politics that makes them uncomfortable at times and concerned. She said her husband is Jewish, and the way some elected officials have empowered white supremacists makes her genuinely afraid.

“It’s never felt like the stakes are as high as they are now,” she said.

Spokesmen for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and the Spokane Police Department said political sign theft is common around election time, but is difficult to track because those thefts are often not reported to law enforcement. Political sign theft is illegal, and police spokesman Terry Preuninger said people can report stolen signs to Crime Check.

He said if there’s no footage or evidence, it may be difficult to investigate a sign or flag theft, but reporting it does help police gather data on those types of crimes and sometimes if there’s a rash of similar reports, can show a trend. He said if there is video of the theft, such as Ring camera video, or other information that can help police, it is more likely to be investigated.