The Requirements to Run for Public Office - dummies

The Requirements to Run for Public Office

By Dan Gookin

It’s surprising how many people don’t know that holding elected office is like taking on a part-time job. Approach campaigning for a public office as you would a typical job search. You start with the job description and job requirements. Remember, holding a public office is a consistent commitment that can last several years.

running for local office

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What are the basic requirements to run for public office?

All public offices have basic requirements, often written in code or statutes. This list includes who is eligible to hold the office, the office term, scheduled responsibilities, salary and benefits, and other items.

For government entities served by an elected board, a staffer is responsible for items like meeting schedules, rules, and other details. This person is often titled the clerk. The clerk is your best resource for learning about the basic requirements of the job.

For administrative elected positions, a staffer may be appointed to assist you with the various responsibilities and duties. Organizations and associations related to the position, such as the state board of coroners, might also be of assistance if you have questions about the basic requirements for a position.

The human resources department for the organization might be another resource, though when you’re elected, you meet with them eventually anyway. Before you start campaigning, know whether you qualify for the office you desire:

  • Eligibility for a position depends primarily on whether you’re an elector for the district you plan to represent. An elector is a qualified resident (not just a property owner) who has lived in the district for a prescribed amount of time and is eligible to vote.
  • Confirm with the local election authority that you’re eligible to run for an office before you make further commitments.
  • Special qualifications may include legal or law enforcement experience for certain positions. For example, an elected district attorney must be a lawyer who is licensed to practice law in the jurisdiction. (Oddly enough, not every jurisdiction requires that an elected coroner have a medical degree.)

Know the term of office! It could be two, three, four, or more years. During this term, you must maintain residency in the district to hold your position.

  • Ensure that you can make the meeting schedule. The voters will be terribly disappointed if you can’t make the regular Thursday Library Board meetings because it’s your bowling night.
  • At the bottom of your list should be the position’s salary and benefits package. Be aware that some elected positions offer no compensation other than the honor to serve. Other positions offer a monthly stipend, usually enough to cover the cost of gas. For the rest, the benefit package is luxurious, including full medical and retirement, phone fees, use of the cabana at the Bellagio, and similar perks that come with local office.

The qualifications for political office

Election laws vary from state to state. It’s important that you meet these qualifications before you invest any time or money into a campaign.

The qualifications include

  • Residency: You must be a resident in the district you plan to represent. You can’t just own property there — you must have a full-time residence or primary residence.
  • Time in the district: Not only is residency important, but you also may be required to have lived in the district for a given amount of time. It could be a few months, a year, or longer.
  • Age: Some offices have minimum age requirements.
  • Other qualifications: It’s not common that you need law enforcement experience to run for sheriff, though it helps. You must, however, be an attorney in your state if you plan to run for a legal office, such as district attorney, prosecutor, or judge. Other offices may have similar restrictions.

If you fail to meet any requirements of office, you won’t make it on the ballot. Even worse is when you mess up, or the election’s office messes up, and you’re unceremoniously removed from the ballot. You don’t want that to happen.

Scrutinize the requirements. Your opponents will. And you should scrutinize them as well.