How to File for Political Office

So you’ve decided you’re going to run for office -fantastic!

Now that you’ve made your decision, there are several actionable steps you need to take immediately. One of the first is filing the necessary paperwork for your candidacy.

Because state’s laws outline the procedures and requirements for running for office at municipal, county and/or state levels there is no way I can cover every possible process in this post. So instead, this post broadly breaks down some steps you may need to take.

You will need to do your own research to know exactly what to do and when to do it by. I recommend you start by visiting your state’s Division of Elections website (a quick google search will help you find it) or your local city or county Clerk’s office. Whichever office you determine you need to work with, I recommend you develop a positive working relationship. The process can be complicated.

Now with all of that out of the way, let’s dive into some general topics you may need to consider when getting ready to file your paperwork for office:

Are you eligible for the office you want to run for?

There can be all sorts of eligibility requirements from age, to residency time, location requirements, and more. Know if you’re eligible before doing much more work.

Know important filing dates.

Keep in mind, for some states with early primaries filing for office may take place in the calendar year prior to the election date. You don’t want to miss the date so do your research!

Know ALL the important dates, ie. filing dates, absentee ballot dates, primary date/s, canvassing day dates and of course the general election date. These are key dates to know for your campaign strategy.

Know the definition of a candidate.

This may vary by state some, but generally, the definition goes something like this: a person that has publically announced and receives a contribution or makes an expenditure in an attempt to be nominated or elected to political office. This definition is important because in some states you can become a candidate before filing the paperwork. In other states, you must file the paperwork before your formal announcement.

I highly recommend you know the rules before you become an official candidate. Better yet -- do as much of the paperwork as you can up front.

Develop a candidacy committee.

This is a committee designated by the candidate to receive all contributions and make all expenditures for them or on their behalf.

Keep in mind the committee can be just you, the candidate, and as a candidate, you can only have one committee.

Determine a name for your committee. Some offices have certain parameters you must follow for naming and others don’t. I recommend keeping it simple like your name and office example: “Jack Smith for City Council” or “Friends for Jane Knope”.

Determine your campaign treasurer.

Each office has different rules for determining if you must have a designated treasurer. However, no matter the race one thing is consistent across the board -your treasurer must be someone of impeccable character. He/she must become extremely familiar with all pertinent campaign finance and disclosure laws.

Be aware for some offices there may be mandatory campaign finance course for whomever is responsible for your finances. The Clerk or election division should have the resources available to help step someone through the process.

For any federal races, the treasurer and finance committee will need to be aware and comply with the Federal Election Commission guidelines.

Set up a campaign depository - also known as a campaign bank account.

The account exists to ensure your campaign revenue and expenditures stay in a separate location from your personal finances.

The name on the account should match the name of your candidacy committee to keep things simple.

Know the nomination procedures, timelines, and deadlines.

For some offices, all that is required is a filing fee to be nominated.  Filing for other offices there may be additional steps required.

Signatures may be required:

You may need to circulate nomination papers and compile signatures from the district you’ll be representing. If this is indeed a requirement there is a big advantage to gathering the signatures yourself. Ensure the signatures are not only correct but also help you meet your constituents. Work to get 20% over the minimum required signatures and keep in mind there may also be a maximum

There may be a required caucus.

Ask when and where the caucus will be held and if there are any special rules.

Determine if you will need to fill out campaign finance reports and if so, familiarize yourself with the process.

If you are going to have someone else managing your campaign finances you still need to know the process and expectations.

Again, I want to reiterate this is not an exhaustive or comprehensive list of all you need to know before you file and the items are likely not in order for many offices. But I hope the list gives you some idea of what you should expect and the questions you should ask.  

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