So You Wanna Run For Office? A Detailed Outline to Becoming a Candidate in Georgia

Published by Imani Benjamin on

So you wanna run for office? A detailed outline to becoming a candidate in Georgia

Matt Schnatz | Avant-Youth

Politics are complicated. The systems putting our elected officials into office aren’t as simple as we were taught in school. Georgia’s complicated system of counties and commissions results in hundreds of government officials at the state and local level. AY looked at Georgia’s official candidates for the recent primary election, and now we’re looking at the process to get on the ballot.

Basic requirements

The process of getting on the ballot is a lot more complicated than just announcing you’re running for office. There are four ways to get on Georgia’s ballots: as a member of a political party, a member of a political body, as an independent candidate or as a write-in.

These qualifications are known as “ballot access laws.” They determine whether or not someone is able to appear on a state election ballot. 

The first step (nominated or entering the election as a write-in) is ensuring you’re actually able to run for office in the first place. There are a few basic requirements for any individual to qualify as a candidate. When running for a federal or state position, these are the requirements for…

US Senators

  • 30 years old
  • A United States citizen for 9 years
  • And a resident of the state you have chosen

US House of Representatives:

  • 25 years old
  • A United States citizen for 7 years
  • And a resident of the state you are running in

Governor:

  • 30 years old
  • A United States citizen for 15 years
  • And a legal resident of Georgia for 6 years

All states have a state Congress, made up of the House and Senate. Georgia’s state Senate is made up of 56 members. The state House has 180 statesmen. To be a candidate for either bodies, you must be… 

GA State Senator:

  • 25 years old
  • A United States citizen  
  • A Georgia citizen for two years
  • And a resident of the district they are representing

GA State House of Representatives

  • 21 years old
  • A United States citizen
  • A Georgia citizen for two years
  • And a resident in the district of the district they represent.
Qualifying via Political Parties

Once you’ve determined that you meet these basic requirements, you’re still not quite done. 

Before you can accept money from anybody, announce that you’re running for candidate or look for a nomination, you have to get through the Georgia Government Transparency and Finance Commission. By “get through,” we mean you have to start filing forms.

Forms to declare your intent to accept campaign contributions. Forms to register a campaign committee. Forms for the choosing option of separate accounting or COOSA (which is necessary if a separate account is needed for campaign contributions). And file forms for campaign contribution disclosures, personal financial disclosures and various other affidavits. The Georgia Government Transparency and Finance Commission provide information and videos on how to proceed here

Once you’ve probably gone cross-eyed from filling out forms, there are two more things you have to do before qualifying as a candidate: Fill out a declaration of candidacy, and pay the qualifying fee. 

If you’re looking to get on the ballot on a local level, you can check out your local government website. Here you can see what positions are available and their corresponding fees. 

Again, you can get onto a Georgia ballot when you’ve been nominated by a political party, a nominee of a political body, enter as an independent or a write-in. The process of qualifying is very quick and full of deadlines, usually starting at the beginning of the election year. 

One of the first steps to becoming a candidate is filing a declaration of candidacy and affidavit. This document states:

  • The candidate’s names 
  • Residence
  • Occupation
  • Precinct
  • Whether they are eligible 
  • The office they’re looking to fill 
  • Whether they’ve been convicted of a felon
  •  And if they intend to violate election laws. 

The next step in your journey to candidacy is coughing up the required fees. According to Georgia’s ballot laws, a candidate has to pay $5,220 to appear on a ballot for a federal seat in Congress. 

Those looking to become candidates for state congress have to pay a qualifying fee of $400. This is usually paid to the Secretary of State’s office or to the political party the candidate is nominated by. 

If you’re a candidate with empty pockets, you can submit a pauper’s affidavit. This announces that you don’t have the money to pay the qualifying fee. If you use the pauper’s affidavit, you have to secure a certain amount of signatures equaling:

  •  one-fourth of one percent of the total number of registered voters in the last general election for state-wide offices, or 
  • one percent of the total number of voters eligible for the last election for an office that is not state-wide.  

Georgia provides a timeline of filing and submitting fees (to the state or political parties, not the FEC), as well as documents needed to file qualifying information here

The actual process of running, for federal candidates, is different. While there’s a qualifying fee to get on Georgia’s ballot, there’s more money involved for candidates running for a federal office. 

According to the FEC, you are considered a candidate when you spend or raise more than $5,000 towards a campaign. If you meet that threshold, you have to file the necessary forms within 15 days of qualifying.

The only people exempt from this regulation are those who spend less than that to “test the water.” Essentially, if you’re only spending money to figure out how much support you’ll have in a hypothetical campaign and don’t reach that $5,000 threshold, you don’t have to register as a candidate. 

The process of getting on the ballot is relatively simple for candidates of established political parties (like Democrats and Republicans). They are nominated at their party’s primary election. The steps listed above are requirements set by the state that all parties, major and minor, must adhere to in the state of Georgia. 

The complication arises for candidates of political bodies, independents and write-ins.

Matt Schnatz | Avant-Youth

Political Bodies, Independents and Write-ins

Before we examine other ways to get on the ballot, let’s take a quick break to go over some terms:

  • An independent candidate is just what it sounds like. The individual is unaffiliated with any political party or body.
  • A political organization or body is any organization that isn’t a party like the Republicans or Democrats. This can sometimes be a minor political group and usually their nominees got less than 20% in a gubernatorial or presidential election.
  • A write-in is pretty simple. They’re someone who doesn’t appear on official ballots.  

The process of qualifying is a little different for candidates of political bodies, independents and write-in candidates. 

To get on Georgia’s ballot, an independent or member of a political body follows the same steps listed but there is an extra step called petitioning. In Georgia, independents and candidates of political organizations are required to get signatures in “nominating petitions.” 

So, you need signatures. Lots of them.  

For a state-wide office, you’re required to rustle up the signatures of one percent of the total eligible voters in the last election. So for a candidate for the Senate, that would be 36,180 signatures (this number is for the upcoming November General Election). 

For those seeking a different office, such as the federal House of Representatives or a position in state congress they have to get five percent of the total registered voters. 

The exact number of signatures, of course, varies from district to district. It ranges anywhere between 13,945 to 18,577 signatures. That is a lot of people. And you have 180 days (or five months) to get them down on paper to be verified by the Secretary of State. 

A write-in candidate can only run in a general election. They have to file a notice of intention of write-in candidacy. The earliest date for this is the beginning of the year and extends to September, at the latest. 

Once that notice is filed, another notice is filed in a newspaper that’s circulated throughout the state. Once it’s been published, you have to show the State Secretary a copy with an affidavit that says the first notice was published. The entire process is like a really complicated wedding announcement. 

Petitions Requirements

So petitions. Independents and candidates nominated by petition need signatures to get on the ballot. 

This has been part of Georgia law since 1943. No independent candidate has been able to run for U.S. House since 1964. The exception to this precedent is James Edward “Billy” McKinney, who got on the US House ballot in 1982. He only needed 1.3% of the petition for Georgia’s Fifth District because redistricting was late in the year. 

This makes it difficult for non-party candidates to make it on the ballot, let alone run in an election. The Democrat and Republican parties do not have to complete petitions to be on the ballot. 

If someone is intending to run with either a political body or as an independent, they have to acquire enough signatures equaling one percent of eligible voters in a statewide election, such as the election for Georgia’s federal Senate seat. 

Which is frankly a ridiculous amount of people. One percent of Georgia’s registered voters, before the recent court ruling, was 51,686 people. A congressional petition is currently anywhere between 13,945 to 18,577 signatures. Although candidates are given five months to collect the signatures, the Secretary of State has to verify all of them. 

The Libertarian Party of Georgia has recently gone to court to protest the large number of signatures necessary for third parties and independents to get on the ballot. 

Although last year’s bill HB 191 did not pass, the Libertarian Party has made progress in the 11th Circuit, which issued a ruling requiring a Georgia court to determine whether or not the Libertarian Party had been unconstitutionally excluded due to Georgia’s ballot laws. 

Early this July, the number of signatures necessary for independents and minor parties were lowered

What we have provided is a basic rundown of one part of Georgia’s political system. Avant-Youth encourages our readers to look further into how candidates of various parties become candidates. Or even take the first step to pursue candidacy.

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Imani Benjamin

Imani Benjamin

Imani Benjamin-Wharton is a graduate from Georgia State University with a degree in English. She’s an aspiring novelist hoping to write the next great American novel. In her free time, she learns the secrets of survival from her favorite horror movies.

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