FORT LAUDERDALE — Campaign signs that go mysteriously missing can be the norm during election season. But this time, the sign bandit got caught with a little help from an Apple AirTag tracking device.
The tracker, hidden inside a campaign sign for Mike Lambrechts that disappeared from a front lawn in the Rio Vista neighborhood, put out a signal that led to a green Jeep parked outside the home of political rival Jacquelyn Scott.
Scott told the South Florida Sun Sentinel her campaign worker removed the sign from the yard of a homeowner in Rio Vista on Thursday morning, but had planned to return it to Lambrechts.
She never got the chance, Scott said.
Ten minutes after the campaign worker pulled up to Scott’s home in Colee Hammock, Scott says Lambrechts showed up with the police in tow.
Officers found the sign Thursday inside the campaign worker’s car, parked right in Scott’s driveway. No arrest was made but the officers had the woman give Lambrechts his sign back.
Lambrechts, a financial advisor making his first run for office, says the $20 tracker was worth every penny.
Scott and Lambrechts are two of seven candidates running for the District 4 commission seat in the november election. The other candidates include Kevin Cochrane, Ted Anthony Inserra, Kathleen “Kitty” McGowan, Edward Thomas Rebholz and Warren Sturman.
In the past few weeks, Lambrechts says he’s had at least two dozen stolen signs.
“I was frustrated,” he said. “I wanted to come up with an idea outside the box to see where the signs were going. The Apple AirTag idea came up in my head. I looked at the tracker every day hoping it wouldn’t move.”
Then, on Thursday morning, he noticed the tracker had moved along with the sign it was hiding in.
“I was surprised we tracked it back to a candidate’s house,” Lambrechts said. “That sign is a relic now. It’s getting framed if I win.”
Jeff Maggio, a longtime resident, found the whole thing amusing.
“I think it’s hilarious,” he said. “You can’t make this stuff up. It’s just too good.”
Will the case of the AirTag tracker have a chilling effect on that favorite election season pastime of stealing campaign signs? Perhaps, says Charles Zelden, a political science professor at Nova Southeastern University.
“It’s an interesting idea — a LoJack for campaign signs,” he said. “It is a dig if people know it’s there.”
As to who exactly took the sign, some voters might not bother to make that distinction, Zelden said.
“The buck stops with her,” he said of Scott. “It’s her campaign. The bad press is going to land on her whether she took the sign or not.”
Some people might laugh it off, but there’s a serious element behind the humor, Zelden said.
“Are you impinging on free speech when you take someone’s campaign sign?” he said. “It’s just part of the game of perception that is politics. Does it bother voters that someone is stealing a sign? In the end, the choice is up to the voters. It’s just another data point for the voters to take into account.”
On Thursday, Scott told police the Rio Vista homeowner, John Ropes, didn’t want Lambrechts’ campaign sign on his property anymore.
And on Friday, Scott told the Sun Sentinel she had permission to put her sign at Ropes’ home. She shared a text with the newspaper where she told Ropes she planned to put a campaign sign in front of his office and home. He responded with a thumbs up.
“I would never place a sign where a sign would not be wanted,” Scott said.
Her campaign worker went to Ropes’ home on Thursday morning to post her sign and take down the one belonging to Lambrechts, Scott said.
The way Ropes remembers it, he only gave permission for Scott to place a sign in front of his nearby office building.
Right now, two signs sit in front of Ropes’ home, one for Scott and one for Lambrechts.
“Mike put a sign in my yard and it disappeared,” Ropes said. “And they asked if they could put another one in and they did.”
That one, spirited away by Scott’s campaign worker on Thursday, also went missing.
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So Lambrechts feels a third one over.
“I had no idea this was going to turn out the way it did,” Ropes said. “I think it was a mix-up, a mistake.”
For now, Ropes plans to leave both signs in his front yard.
“I just decided to leave them there,” he said. “It’s not hurting anything. I guess if I was running for office I’d get upset. It sounds a bit crazy to me. That’s what happens when you get young guys that know a lot about new technology.”
After all the election sign drama, Ropes says he has even less interest in ever running for political office.
“You couldn’t pay me to run,” he said. “I’d rather go to the dentist.”
Susannah Bryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan