Want to be the next “Mr. Smith” to go to Washington? Sure, you’ll need to campaign frequently and raise money — but you’ll also have another obstacle to getting elected:
Getting your name on the ballot.
Unless you’re planning to mount a campaign to receive write-in votes, one of the first things you would have to do be a candidate is make sure your name appears as a choice for voters on Election Day.
Requirements vary depending on which type of office you are seeking and the jurisdiction of that office. Generally, these can be split up into two categories: Statewide and local offices. Here’s a look at the requirements to run for each:
- Statewide or federal office
Statewide candidates are those seeking positions for which any state voter can cast a ballot, such as for governor or U.S. Senator. If a candidate wants to run as the nominee of a political party, then he/she would needs to get the nomination of the party. This is a two-step process. First, each party holds a convention where the party leadership determines whom it will endorse for the nomination. After collecting the party’s endorsement, the party will help the selected candidate fundraise and collect the signatures for the ballot petition.
“The party organization often has funds, but perhaps more important they have people who can be persuaded to collect signatures” for the ballot petition, said Kristi Andersen, a political science professor at Syracuse University.
But that does not ensure the nomination. Anyone eligible to run for the office can collect the signatures independently. If two or more candidates collect enough signatures, then a primary election will determine who shows up as the party’s nominee during the general election.
If two or more candidates from the same party collect enough signatures to appear on the ballot, then a primary election will choose the nominee.
So just how many signatures do candidates have to collect? The exact number determines the population of the jurisdiction the candidate is running in. Those running in races where all state voters can vote must collect either 15,000 signatures or 5 percent of the party’s registered voters in the state – whichever number is lower.
The primary elections for federal offices, which include Congressional Districts and the U.S. Senate, will be June 24, 2014. The date for state and local primaries has not been announced. The general election for all offices will be Nov. 4.
- Local office
These include state assembly, state senate and Congressional District, as well as any positions for a county, city, town or village elected office.
Candidates and parties in smaller towns are given a bit more flexibility. For example, towns with a population smaller than 750,000 residents can choose to have a caucus instead of a primary for offices within its jurisdiction.
The process for a caucus is slightly different, although its purpose is the same – to pick a political party’s nominee. Instead of voting in a ballot box, caucuses are designed as meetings of the region’s registered party members to select a candidate. These caucuses follow procedures set by the local county. Parties that choose to hold caucuses must post public notices for these meetings.
In local races, candidates must signatures of 5 percent of voters registered to the party for which the candidate is seeking nomination. In Camillus, for example, the Republican party had 6,180 registered members in 2013, according to the Onondaga County Board of Elections. A candidate trying to get on the ballot for the 2013 Republican primary had to collect 309 signatures. The voters must also live within the jurisdiction that the election is being held.
If a candidate desires to run as an independent, it can be a little easier to collect the required number of signatures. Since independent candidates do not go through political parties, those candidates can collect signatures from any registered voter, so long as he/she lives within the proper jurisdiction.
Independent candidates also have more time to collect signatures. These candidates have until Aug. 19 to file a petition to run for office. That’s almost four months after candidates seeking party nominations. It also allows for more options.
“The good thing if you lose your primary election is that you still have time to get on the ballot as an independent if you can collect enough signatures,” said Dustin Czarny, a commissioner for the Onondaga County Board of Elections.
In a worst-case scenario where a candidate fails enough signatures to be listed on the ballot, one can still get elected by receiving write-in votes. These campaigns usually are unsuccessful, although there have been a few successes.
The last time, for example, a member of Congress was elected as a write-in candidate was in 2010, When Lisa Murkowski lost the Republican nomination for senator in Alaska to Joe Miller only to defeat him in the general election. IN 2005, in Baxter Estates on Long Island, N.Y., James Maher became the village’s mayor as a write-in candidate with 29 votes, while incumbent James Neville, the only name on the ballot, received 13 votes.
(Ben Peck is a senior with dual majors in broadcast and digital journalism and finance.)