A Pennsylvania woman recovered over 100 political campaign yard signs for Democratic candidates in a dumpster behind a restaurant on Wednesday morning, with some help from an Apple AirTag.
Local police believe a resident had put the tracking device on a sign — perhaps anticipating that it might be stolen — and anonymously called to inform them of its location. The department, which said it received multiple reports of missing signs, shared the location with some victims who wished to recover the signs. That information filtered down to Arlene Talley, 75, a member of the Chester County Democratic Committee, who went to find them in a dumpster behind a strip mall.
Lt. Tyler Moyer of the Tredyffrin Township Police said his department was looking into the case in the affluent suburb to the northwest of Philadelphia. Moyer, who has been with the agency for 18 years, said that during his tenure he was aware of “dozens” of previous incidents of political campaign sign theft.
Released in 2021, Apple’s AirTags have previously helped police track down stolen goods, from bikes to pilfered luggage, though there have been reports of the devices also being used to surreptitiously track and stalk people. But using them to keep tabs on political signage is a new phenomenon. The only other reported instance occurred in Florida this August, where a single stolen campaign sign was also recovered thanks to an AirTag.
In the Pennsylvania case, the AirTag showed that the sign it had been affixed to was near a construction site and a restaurant, which is where Talley started her search. She eventually found the signs in a dumpster behind a nearby nail salon.
There, in a large commercial-sized dumpster, Talley told Forbes that she found 118 signs almost entirely for Democratic candidates, including U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman, gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro, U.S. House member Chrissy Houlahan and Pennsylvania House of Representatives member Melissa Shusterman. She said there were also five vote by mail signs and two more for Black Lives Matter. None of the signs were for Republican candidates. Talley said she did not find a sign with an AirTag on it.
Another local resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was directed to the same location by police approximately 90 minutes before Talley, and found the same cache of signs. He said he only saw signs for Democratic candidates.
Pennsylvania is viewed as a battleground state — one that can swing towards Democrats or Republicans — particularly during national elections. Last month, President Joe Biden gave a speech in Philadelphia, castigating former president Donald Trump and his supporters.
Lt. Moyer of the Tredyffrin Township Police confirmed the citizens’ accounts, saying the police were now waiting on local surveillance camera footage to assist them in the investigation.
Moyer also told Forbes that some victims of political sign theft had their mailboxes vandalized. “The fact that mailboxes were broken and things like that lead us to believe that it’s mostly kids,” he said. “We don’t think it’s one group that is trying to make a political statement or anything like that.”
Shusterman, who is running for re-election for her seat in the state legislature, said in a Wednesday tweet : “We will not let the radical MAGA right intimidate us. Double the amount of signs taken will go back up.”
“I think the county party has leaned in heavily to MAGA,” she told Forbes, referring to the wing of the party that supports former president Donald Trump. “And it’s not reflective of the majority of Republicans in this area, but they’re quite loud.”
Members of the Republican Committee of Chester County who represent Tredyffrin did not immediately respond to Forbes’ request for comment.
Still, Lt. Tyler Moyer, the Tredyffrin police spokesperson, said that despite the novel use of Apple’s tracking device, if a culprit is ever caught, through local video footage or some other means, it will be a misdemeanor at best.
“Nobody’s going to jail over this, put it that way,” he said.