While it seems that the last election is barely over, especially since Obama doesn’t take office until next week, it’s already prime time to circulate candidacy petitions for office if you’d like to run for municipal court judge or for partisan municipal elections this year.
Yes, there are elections in odd-numbered years.
In Ohio, in odd-numbered years, there may be elections for municipal court judges, city councils, village councils, mayors and other municipal executive branch offices, township clerks, township trustees, and school boards.
Of course, there aren’t usually announcements about petition filing deadlines. By keeping quiet about such deadlines, political party insiders are often able to get their own hand-picked persons on the bottom rungs of the political ladder without much opposition.
I feel that some of my readers would make excellent public servants. That’s why I’m giving you the heads-up. If you want to run for municipal court judge, or you want to run for city council in a city that holds partisan elections (if there’s no city charter, then such would be the case), then the filing deadline for your petitions to run in the May 5th primary election is before 4 pm on February 19, 2009 at your county’s Board of Elections office. For example, Lorain and Elyria are cities that hold partisan elections for city council (and there are many more such cities all over the state). Some cities have city charters that specify that elections for city council are to be non-partisan. City charters could specify the petition filing deadline date for such non-partisan races, so you’ve got some homework to do if that applies to your city. Otherwise, candidates for township, school board, and non-partisan municipal races have until August 20 to file petitions for the November 3rd general election.
For those it applies to, February 19 is just around the corner.
It’s not required that you raise any money in order to run for office, but if you think you might want to raise campaign money, you need to fill out a Designation of Treasurer form with the county Board of Elections. On the form, you will be asked to name your campaign committee. You don’t have to organize boatloads of people to form a campaign committee. Your committee could conceivably consist of just you, yourself. Your surname should be included in the campaign committee name. For example, if I were going to be a candidate, I might use “Williamson for City Council,” “Vote Williamson,” “Friends of Daniel Williamson,” “Elect Williamson,” “Williamson Campaign Committee,” or some other phrase that included my surname of Williamson when naming the committee. The form will ask you to specify which election race that you are a candidate for. The form will ask you to include the contact information for your campaign committee. The committee must have a PHYSICAL address, not just some P.O. Box. Also, a treasurer must be named for your committee. Your treasurer could be yourself. If you wish, you could name a deputy treasurer in addition to a treasurer (and the deputy treasurer could be yourself if someone else was named as treasurer). If any campaign money is received or expended, the treasurer and/or deputy treasurer will be responsible for submitting the required financial reports. None of the information on this Designation of Treasurer form has to be permanently etched in stone. If, after you file the form, you decide to change the office you seek election to, or decide to change the name of the committee, or decide to change the address of the committee, or change treasurers, just amend the information by filling out a new Designation of Treasurer form with the county Board of Elections.
If you do raise and expend campaign money, the campaign committee will need to have its own bank account. Campaign funds cannot be commingled with any other funds. Keep in mind, when shopping around for a bank account for the campaign committee, that you may need to submit copies of canceled checks (front and back) for your committee expenditures to accompany your campaign finance reports. You should receive printed instructions on campaign finance reporting requirements from the Board of Elections office when you submit your Designation of Treasurer form. At the very least, make sure the BoE workers direct you to a source of information that will provide you with the most up-to-date rules concerning campaign finance reporting. I’ve been my own campaign treasurer in the past, and I’m happy to say that preparing campaign finance reports isn’t rocket science, so please don’t feel intimidated.
Now, about the matter of circulating petitions. You can get petition forms from the county Board of Elections. Take a black ink pen and a clipboard with you when you gather signatures, so that you make it easy for people to sign without having to fumble around. How many signatures you must gather depends on the election you are running for, and whether you are running as a candidate of a political party or not. Do not collect more than 3 times the minimum number of signatures required. Pay attention to the form. The blanks at the beginning of the form must be filled in prior to collecting any signatures. The blanks at the end of the form, where the petition circulator certifies and attests to collecting and witnessing all the signatures on the form, is to be filled out after collecting the signatures. On any given form, there must be only one petition circulator, so if two or more people are circulating petitions for you, they must do so on separate forms, not ever on the same form. Those who circulate petitions for you must be currently registered Ohio voters, and they must not be from a different political party than the candidate, if running in a partisan race, so don’t enlist the help of underage high school students to circulate petitions for you, since they wouldn’t be registered voters.
I recommend getting “walk lists” of the precincts that you’ll be running for election in, from the BoE. The “walk lists” should show you the names of registered voters with their street addresses and party affiliations. This way, you can make sure you are gathering VALID signatures. You wouldn’t want the Board of Elections throwing out your petitions because signatures were found not to be valid. Workers at the Board of Elections will be verifying that the signatures on your form match the signatures they have on file from the voter registration records. They’ll verify that the name, signature, address, and party affiliation all match up between the petitions and the voter records. That’s why I recommend walk lists. You won’t see voter signatures on the walk lists, but you will be able to match up names, addresses, and party affiliations, since the walk list is generated from the voter records that the BoE has.
In partisan races, signatures won’t be valid if the voters who signed were from a different political party than the candidate. Thus, Republican candidates cannot collect valid signatures from those identified as Democrats on voter rolls, but they can collect valid signatures from other Republicans and from independents. For yet another example, Green Party candidates cannot collect valid signatures from those identified on voter rolls as Republicans or Democrats, but they can collect valid signatures from independents. Those voters with no political party affiliation shown on the voter rolls are considered independent voters, and, as independents, they can sign on to any partisan petition without changing their independent status. After all, party affiliation is determined by which political party ballot you choose to vote on during the primary elections. Those who request “issues-only” ballots during primaries, and those who don’t vote at all in primaries are considered independents. Those listed as Republicans must have voted in a Republican primary election in the past. Those listed as Democrats must have voted in a Democrat primary election in the past. That’s how those voters became affiliated with political parties on the voter rolls.
In the past, when I’ve inadvertently collected a signature that I believed wasn’t valid or thought might not be valid, I used my pen to draw a line through that entry on my form in order to cross it out before submitting the completed forms to the Board of Elections. I did not include the crossed-off entries in my total tally of signatures that I certified and attested to when I filled in the blanks at the end of the form after finishing the signature collection but before the form submission to the Board of Elections. Such precautions helped me to get an accurate count of valid signatures so that I knew my petitions wouldn’t be thrown out by the Board of Elections, and so that I wouldn’t have my petitions challenged by political opponents, either.
A disclaimer: The recommendations I’ve made here are based on my past experience. Laws may vary from locality to locality, and some laws may have been changed since I last ran for office in 2004, so please consult your county’s Board of Elections office for current laws applicable to you and your campaign in your location, or else consult the office of Ohio’s Secretary of State.
I really hope that voters have excellent candidates to choose from in this year’s township, village, city, school board, and municipal court races. If you blog readers are among those who step forward to be candidates this year, I wish you the best of luck.