Pennsylvania’s local government offers many opportunities for citizens to hold elected office. The state has 67 counties, including the city-county entity of Philadelphia; 501 school districts; and hundreds of boroughs and townships. Each one has multiple elected officials with varying degrees of power. Pennsylvania holds municipal elections in odd years, so a local candidate will normally not appear on a ballot with a Presidential, senate or gubernatorial race.
Running for Office in Pennsylvania
Pick your office. Pennsylvania residents who have not been convicted of bribery, perjury or embezzlement of public funds (as outlined in the state constitution) may run for dozens of public offices in the districts in which they live. These offices include county commissioners and row offices, borough and city council members and mayor, township supervisor, tax collector, auditor, assessor, judge of election, inspector of election, constable, magisterial district judge and school board members.
Gauge your chances. Even at the local level, incumbents have an inherent advantage because they have a record of accomplishment, name recognition and a base of supporters. Do your research so you can pick a winnable election to avoid wasting time and money.
Develop your strategy, theme and message. Voters want a reason to vote for someone, so develop an effective message and general theme of the election. Develop a strategy by calculating a win total. Start with the average number of votes for a similar race in recent years. Divide that number by two and add one vote. This is the estimated minimum number of votes you need to win the election.
Collect signatures and file nomination papers. The Pennsylvania Secretary of State and county elections offices can provide the appropriate paper work that potential candidates need to file, including a statement of financial interests. In order to get on the ballot as a Democrat or Republican, a potential candidate must collect signatures from voters of that party. The signature requirement ranges from as few as five signatures for inspector of elections to as many as 1,000 for county commissioner or city mayor. Note that borough mayors, who have much less power than city mayors, only need 10 signatures.
Candidates for some offices, including school board members and magisterial district judge, may cross-file, meaning they can collect signatures from citizens of both parties and appear on both the Democratic and Republican primary election ballots.
Form an election committee. At a minimum, a candidate must appoint a committee chair and treasurer and they cannot be the same person.
Track and report expenditures. Candidates in Pennsylvania must file expenditure reports with the Secretary of State if their total expenses exceed $250.
Campaign. Meet with constituents. Purchase advertisements in newspapers and on radio and television if you have the money. Talk to the local press. Keep in mind that earned media is usually better than paid media because you get your message out without having to spend money.
Monitor the elections. State law prohibits candidates from entering the polling location, but does allow candidates to appoint two people to monitor the results. Pennsylvania polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m., so the monitors need to commit to 13 hours on a Tuesday. It would also be a good idea to personally go to the county courthouse to monitor the unofficial results.
Candidates seeking the nomination of a third party such as the Green or Libertarian parties need to collect a number of signatures equal to 2 percent of the total votes cast for the candidate who received the most votes in that district in the last election. For example, if a Green Party candidate seeks a school board seat, that candidate would have to collect a number of petition signatures equal to or more than the top vote-getter in the previous school board election. If the most votes for a school board member in the last election equaled 1,000, then the Green Party candidate would need 20 signatures.
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images