The debates are over and we're less than two weeks away from the election. It is time to talk about an important issue that affects both Republicans and Democrats: yard sign theft.

I know it isn't the national debt or corporate tax policy or Benghazi. But yard signs are important to some candidates and avid supporters. Folks of all political persuasions have felt the loss of stolen signs.

Personally, it isn't a matter of whether a sign will get stolen from my yard, it is a matter of when. I've had two Mitt Romney signs stolen in recent weeks, as has my neighbor. They've been replaced, but I don't count on them being there long. It doesn't matter whether it is an election for President of the United States or the Mississippi legislature - my signs will come up missing eventually.

It happens nationwide.

There was a rash of presidential yard sign stories four years ago. In North Carolina, a supporter of John McCain had his yard sign stolen twice from his yard, so the third time he set up a video to catch the perpetrator. He also hooked his sign up to an electric fence generator. Yeah, he zapped the culprit who turned out to be a nine-year-old neighbor boy. The boy's parents said he knew better than to go stealing signs.

In Oregon, two 23-year-olds were arrested after torching a large McCain yard sign with a Molotov cocktail.

In Michigan, a pizza shop offered a free pizza for every McCain sign brought in, something akin to a bounty, claimed Republicans. The pizza shop owner, a Barack Obama supporter, argued they wanted people to bring in their own signs and not steal from their neighbors.

A Texas woman tired of having her Obama sign stolen painted the Obama for America logo on her yard - so she could express political leanings without fear of further theft.

Those four stories were taken from a list compiled (with videos) by Ben Donahower with Campaign Trail Yard Signs. Donahower literally "wrote the book" on yard signs ("Everything You Know About Campaign Signs is Wrong") and writes about yard sign best practices on his blog and for Campaigns & Elections Magazine.

Donahower seeks to elevate the use of yard signs, which are often treated with derision by other campaign professionals. He argues the idea that "yard signs don't vote" is as ridiculous as saying "television ads don't vote" or "direct mail doesn't vote." He has advice for the size, shape, color, material and message of yard signs. He even advocates using QR codes on signs in high foot traffic areas, technology cluster areas, or areas with lots of young voters. The QR code on the sign allows someone with a smartphone to scan the image and get information about or get connected to the campaign.

Donahower suggests some campaigns can mitigate the cost of yard signs by requiring supporters to purchase them - which additionally gives the campaign the necessary contact information to ask for small dollar donations later. And when someone gets angry because someone stole their sign, he says to channel that anger into volunteerism - provide another sign but also provide a means to strike back against the other campaign by phone banking or knocking on doors.

He also has ideas about how to capitalize on yard sign theft in the press. If you can get the theft on video, then you have proof for police and also great content for local media. If the perpetrator is a candidate or campaign staff, that's even better. Sometimes replacing the yard sign with a handmade sign expressing your displeasure at the theft will draw attention, as will offering a reward for the identification of the thief.

I've seen yard signs used as traps. A video of a candidate or campaign staffer removing an opponent's yard sign looks pretty bad, especially when you can't tell on video that it is their own yard and the sign has been placed there by the guy hiding in the bushes waiting to catch it on video.

Sometimes yard sign related crimes don't need an angle to be reported. Just this week, the son of a Republican state Senator in Wisconsin was hospitalized after being assaulted by two men he confronted in the process of stealing his Romney-Ryan sign from his yard. Meanwhile, yard signs for Obama have been torched in Ohio and Oklahoma.

I can understand kids stealing or vandalizing signs. But for adults to go onto someone's land and steal their property - or light it on fire - seems to go beyond political disagreement. I mean, you expect that kind of political incivility on Facebook, but not your own neighborhood. Partisans can be passionate without breaking the law. But I suppose political theft is just a sign of the times.

Brian Perry is a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.