Thinking of running for office? Here are the rules (and laws).
By A.J. Wagner
It’s over, but it’s never over. “We’ll get ‘em next year!” isn’t an adage limited to sports. Candidates, office holders, supporters and PACs who found themselves on the losing side of this year’s election will now prepare for the next go around. How about you? The way I see it, if your issue or candidate came out on the losing side you have three options for the next election.
If you’re reading this, chances are you didn’t vote this week. So first, make sure you vote. There are about 535,000 residents of Montgomery County with about 410,000 old enough to vote. About 385,000 of those adults are registered to vote. Fewer than half of those registered voters cast a ballot in the 2010 general election. Therefore, to win an election in Montgomery County in 2010 an issue or candidate only needed the approval of about 23 percent of those eligible to vote. Sadly, Occupy Dayton is sitting out in the cold night after night to promote the cause of 99 percent of the population and most of those 99 percent won’t go to the polls to promote their own interests.
Occupy Dayton brings me to the second thing you can do to see your issues and candidates succeed at the polls — get involved. Make contributions, walk your neighborhood, write a letter to the editor, or take people to the polls on voting day. Each one of these efforts multiplies your influence on the election beyond your vote. You are powerful.
I confess here that the previous three paragraphs were just an introduction to what I really want to say here. What I really want you to do is run for office. Seriously, you need to do it.
Not that I’m looking to see every voter on the ballot. That’s not going to happen. But if you are disappointed with the results you see, do it yourself.
Here are some of the rules and laws you need to be aware of to run for office.
The first qualification to be on the ballot is that you be 18 years of age, be a registered voter and reside in the district where you wish to run. There are exceptions to these rules but they are few. For instance, to run for the United States House of Representatives you must be at least 25 years old, have been a citizen of the United States for the past seven years and be an inhabitant of the state you represent but not necessarily the district.
To run for the Senate you must be 30 years old and have been a citizen for nine years. To be president requires you to be 35 years of age, have been a permanent resident of the United States for the past 14 years and you must be a natural born citizen of the United States. I would not suggest you begin your political career by running for senator or president. You would benefit from some experience first.
You will need to file a declaration or petition of some sort to become a candidate. Rules vary, but in the City of Dayton you must have 500 signatures of registered voters. For county-wide office you will need 50 signatures of registered voters who are members of your party. Check with the board of elections for the requirements in your community. The board will also provide you with petitions and show you how to fill them out and circulate them.
In 2006 the United States Sixth District Court of Appeals declared some of the rules for filing by parties who are other than Democrat or Republican to be unconstitutional. The court said the Ohio Legislature needed to amend the rules which they have not done. So if you are from a third party you must navigate through the petition process without much guidance. The local Board of Elections and the Secretary of State will try to help, but when Jenifer Brunner tried to make rules for third-party candidates as Secretary of State, her rules were declared unconstitutional because the U.S. Constitution requires the legislature to make the rules. Still waiting.
If you are going to raise money, an essential in most elections, you will need to become familiar with campaign finance laws. Start by getting someone to be treasurer and then prepare to keep track of who donates to you, their address, how much they donate and, at times, their occupation. Even though corporations can donate to certain advocacy groups they are still prohibited from donating to candidates so be careful. Again, the Board of Elections will be very helpful with information.
There are many laws to consider in running for office but do not be intimidated. There are plenty of people who will try to help you along the way. Go get ‘em!
Disclaimer: The content herein is for entertainment and information only. Do not use this as a legal consultation. Every situation has different nuances that can affect the outcome and laws change without notice. If you’re in a situation that calls for legal advice, get a lawyer. You represent yourself at your own risk. The author, the Dayton City Paper and its affiliates shall have no liability stemming from your use of the information contained herein.
A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth Street in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach A.J. at (937) 223-5200 or at AJWagner@DaytonCityPaper.com.