Getting involved in local politics is a great way to have a say or impact on what happens in your community. You can speak at council meetings, organize petitions, or even attend protests and rallies. You can also run for government positions through local elections. This candidate guide lays out the many factors that go into running for local office.
Deciding whether you should run for local office is the first step toward launching a campaign. Consider why you might want to run for office. Your motivation might range from seeing issues you want to resolve in your community to seeking a stepping stone to later run for a higher elected office.
Once you’ve weighed your options and decided to start a campaign, make your message simple enough to be a quick elevator pitch. The best campaign strategies are often the simplest ones. Voters need to know who you are and why you're running in just seconds.
How you achieve campaign success often comes down to the specific local government position that you run for. Locally elected officials make decisions that impact the daily lives of area residents. While the specific positions open vary from one municipality to the next, the following are common offices that voters elect on a regular basis:
City Council: Municipal legislative bodies represent their district or at-large constituents in matters of taxes, zoning laws, criminal and civil regulations, and local budgets.
Commissioner of Revenue: Revenue commissioners implement and administer municipal tax policies.
Comptroller: This official serves as a chief financial officer or primary accountant for a local government.
Coroner: A coroner oversees local autopsies and death investigations and makes judgment calls about how people died.
County Board of Supervisors: County-level executives have powers and responsibilities similar to that of mayors, but they might represent counties at higher levels of government and also be in charge of voter registration and election administration.
Mayor: The chief administrative officer of a municipality oversees daily operations, enforces legislation, makes appointments to unelected offices, and prepares and manages the city budget.
Planning and Zoning Commissions: Some municipalities elect these officials, while others appoint them. They are generally responsible for setting zoning boundaries and regulations for local governments to enforce.
Prosecutors: These legal servants decide who faces charges for local crimes, the potential severity of those crimes, and when juveniles get treated as adult defendants.
Public Works Commissioners: Crucial local utilities include garbage disposal, recycling, sewage treatment, and water supply.
School Boards: School board members impact local schools, from educational budgets and curriculum to hiring decisions.
Sheriff: The leader of local law enforcement, elected sheriffs might handle criminal investigations and local jail operations.
Trial Court Judge: The majority of civil and criminal cases happen in local courts, and judges administer hearings, jury selection, testimony, rulings, and sentencing.
Different cities and states have different local elected officials, so you might also be eligible to run for a position not included in this list.
There are many steps to prepare to get involved in local politics. The specific issue or issues you care about can form your political platform, but you also have to make sure you meet local candidate qualifications. You may also need a campaign manager other than yourself — or support from a campaign management tool like Good Party’s free AI Campaign Manager.
Look at all of the available positions. Narrow down the list to specific options that you are passionate about, but also make sure you're looking at particular offices where you think you can make a difference at an individual level. Choose one, and then see what the filing deadline is and when the position is next up for election.
Take the position's qualifications into account. Citizenship is a common requirement, but there might also be stipulations regarding residency and age. Fill out the proper application in full, and submit it with any applicable application fee. Certain positions might also require a petition featuring a minimum number of qualified signatures.
Once you file everything by the deadline, start engaging your community as often as possible. You might not have to start intensely campaigning right away, but you do need to reach out to voters frequently so you can start getting your message out and building name recognition.
Crafting an effective campaign message is critical to both raising money and resonating with voters. Fortunately, it can also be simple to accomplish. In fact, you can follow an A-B-C-V process.
A Is for Audience: Knowing your audience is crucial to winning hearts and minds so that they are excited about your cause.
B Is for Brand: Always consider your tone of voice and the language you use in your campaign, and make sure it's consistently accessible, relatable, and impactful.
C Is for Clarity: Keep everything clear, concise, and consistent.
V Is for Value Proposition: Establish your campaign issues and positions as valid, urgent, and worthy of attention.
When you're running for local office, you may be excited about being a part of the local government and might even want to skip election day planning. However, you can't skip past the local community engagement and campaign events, and you certainly can't gloss over the fundraising.
Here are some important steps to follow:
Start this process by identifying a specific fundraising goal. How much money do you need to win your election?
Understand who your ideal audience is. Choose cost-effective strategies tailored to your core voter audience.
Create your calendar. Break your fundraising goal down into specific activities, and give them deadlines. Spread out your fundraisers to avoid overlapping events.
Touch on several different fundraising techniques to cover your bases. Direct mail campaigns let you explain your motivations, positions, and platform. Peer-to-peer fundraising has gotten easier thanks to social media, and door-to-door fundraising is still an effective tactic in many communities. Barbecues, picnics, and other community events can also work wonders.
Your political campaign needs to play by the rules, and there are laws in place at the city, county, state, and federal levels that apply to everything from voter outreach to campaign materials. For instance, canvassing and voter outreach efforts might be effective at boosting voter turnout, but you can easily run afoul of various regulations if you involve active government employees or do things on government property.
Your campaign finance efforts are likely to be closely scrutinized in high-profile elections, so track everything in your campaign budget and make sure you submit all required filings at the appropriate deadlines. Campaign advertising and campaign marketing might also have strict rules to follow in regard to content and placement. Billboards might not be permitted within a certain distance of polling places.
Yard signs are very common in local political campaigns, but they also have to be kept a certain distance from polling places. There might also be different rules regarding their placement based on zoning regulations and even neighborhood by neighborhood if there are HOA restrictions in place.
Finally, rallies or events that you want to hold or attend are likely to need permits in place before you organize them. Your campaign might also be responsible for making sure there are law enforcement and medical first responders in place based on the presumed size of the crowd.
Strong community engagement isn't just the chance to get your message out, but also to refine it via feedback and dialogue. Your top priority is maintaining accessibility. Come up with engaging content that voters remember and react to, and always ask questions. Do that both in person and through digital content.
Don't just let voters share their feedback. Ask for it. Make sure they feel safe sharing it. Provide opportunities for engagement, and promote them so voters understand your commitment to serving them.
Identify, find, and connect with the diverse groups of voters in your local community. Emphasize campaign efficiency and agility, and close the conversational loop often so you can retool your message and engage on new levels. Reflect on your campaign's strategy for community engagement, and find the courage to grow into new areas and positions as they seem fitting.
You and your team might do a lot of campaign door-knocking. You might also use campaign technology to do things digitally, ranging from campaign data analysis or campaign communications. In addition, your campaign planning needs to include specific events open to the public.
Make sure that your campaign timeline has specific events for the different campaign issues that are important to you, and for key moments along the campaign trail. Choose a venue, and recruit volunteers to assist with event planning and execution. Make sure you are permitted for the event time and space, and get the word out to the public. Set a detailed budget that includes all expenses, and stick to it as closely as you can.
If you and your core campaign team aren't tech-savvy, make sure to find the support you need to use technology to your advantage. As crucial as campaign signs are to a local election, so too are a campaign website and corresponding campaign social media accounts. You might find out that some of the local campaign debates are held entirely online.
Digital marketing isn't just for businesses. You can utilize it at a local level to connect with voters in your community in a very cost-efficient manner that makes your fundraising dollars go farther. People might easily tune out billboards and radio ads as background noise, but ads that show up on their phones and tablets may have a better chance of grabbing their attention. If you’ve crafted the right message and identified your core audience, then your digital marketing efforts should resonate strongly.
Your campaign ethics might be tested the most on election day itself. In many areas, campaign regulations prevent political activities close to polling places, and that can include restricting signs, literature, and even clothing or paraphernalia such as campaign buttons.
How you spend your closing campaign resources can be crucial, too. Many votes might be cast through early or mail-in voting before the actual election day, and you might need to hold some resources in reserve in the event of a run-off election.
Have two speeches ready if they are traditional to your local race. You should be equally prepared to give a victory speech or a concession speech. However, you might also face a situation where you do neither that night and wait for vote counting to take longer with the possibility of a contested election.
Running for local office is something you do one campaign at a time. However, local politics never ends. You'll eventually have to decide whether you want to run for office again or not.
If you did win the first time, then you might have accomplishments in office you can run on. Even if you ran and lost, you might be in a better position than before, having already increased your name recognition and begun connecting with voters. In either case, the decision is up to you.
Ready to make a difference in your community? Start your journey in local politics today. Whether you're passionate about specific issues or you simply want to serve your community, running for local office is a powerful way to create change. Good Party's AI Campaign Manager can help you navigate this path with ease. Take the first step towards making a positive impact and explore our campaign management tools today!