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County council
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How to Run for County Legislature

3 min read
County council
Laurette LaLiberte · May 1, 2024

Deciding to run for public office can be a significant step toward effecting change within your community. If you're interested in a position that offers substantial influence over local policies and budgets, then running for the county legislature might be the right move for you. 

Join us as we walk through what a county legislature is and what it does. We’ll also go over the typical eligibility requirements and provide a step-by-step guide for launching your independent campaign.

Understanding County Legislatures

A county legislature is the governing body that determines the functioning of local governments at the county level. County legislators are responsible for making and enforcing local laws, which impact everything from public health and safety to transportation and zoning. This body may also be referred to as the board of supervisors, county council, or county commission, depending on your region.

With more than 3,000 county governments in the United States, a position on the county legislature allows candidates to have a more granular impact on their local community. The primary role of the county legislature is to adopt the county's budget, which includes allocating funds for public services such as law enforcement, road maintenance, and public schools. 

Legislators also pass ordinances and resolutions that govern the county. For example, in those states that give legislative authority to pass regulations to county legislatures, representatives who are elected to serve in this capacity can determine if state laws are enforceable in their county or not. 

Marijuana decriminalization is one example of this, with some states that have legalized marijuana leaving access up to each county.  Other examples include firearms possession or sales, and alcohol purchase or sales, which can be determined on a county-by-county basis in some states. 

The Job of a County Legislator

In the polarized political climate of the United States in 2024, the role of an independent county legislator is more crucial than ever. Independent legislators serve as vital bridges between divided party lines, advocating for policies based on community needs rather than party agendas. 

By focusing on local issues and pragmatic solutions, independent county legislators can foster a more collaborative environment in local government. Candidates looking to further the independent movement can do so by emphasizing transparency, community engagement, and nonpartisan problem-solving in their campaigns. 

These efforts not only resonate with a growing segment of voters who are disillusioned with traditional party politics, but also enhance the effectiveness and accountability of local governments.

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Eligibility Requirements

Before you embark on your campaign journey, you need to ensure you meet the eligibility criteria to run for county legislature. The qualifications to run for county legislator are about the same as for state legislatures, and they are decided on a state-by-state basis. 

Although these requirements can vary slightly by state and county, they generally include:

  1. Age: Most counties require candidates to be at least 18 years of age.

  2. Residency: Candidates must be residents of the county in which they are running, often for a minimum period (e.g., one year) before the election.

  3. Citizenship: You must be a U.S. citizen.

  4. No Felony Convictions: In many counties, candidates must not have any felony convictions.

  5. Registered Voter: You must be a registered voter in the county.

The number and makeup of county legislatures is also determined by the state or county in which they reside. For example, the state of New York sets the membership of a county legislature by the number of districts in each county, and the district divisions are then determined by the county. It's crucial to check with your local election office for specific eligibility requirements in your county.

Guide to Running for County Legislature

Now that you have a general idea of the qualifications and responsibilities of county legislators, you can use this information to plan and launch your campaign. This step-by-step guide should act as a roadmap for individual campaign planning. 

Step 1: Understand the Role and Responsibilities

Before you decide to run, spend time understanding the depth of the role as it pertains to your community. Attend county council meetings, speak with current and former legislators, and study past decisions to understand the challenges and opportunities within the county.

Step 2: Establish Your Platform

Your platform is the foundation of your campaign. Identify the key issues that resonate with your values and those of your potential constituents. Whether it's improving local infrastructure, enhancing public safety, or increasing funding for schools, your platform should address the needs and concerns of your community.

Step 3: File the Necessary Paperwork

To officially become a candidate, you'll need to file candidacy papers with your local election authority. This typically involves submitting a petition signed by a number of registered voters. The exact number of required signatures and other specifics can vary, so contact your local election office for details.

Step 4: Fundraise and Budget

Running a campaign sometimes requires fundraising. The amount of fundraising you’ll need to do will likely depend on the size of your county and the competitiveness of the upcoming election.

Start fundraising early by reaching out to potential donors who support your vision. Create a budget to manage your campaign expenses effectively, focusing on essential items like advertising, campaign materials, and event costs. At the same time, make sure you are aware of any relevant campaign finance regulations and guidelines.

Step 5: Campaign Strategically

Develop a comprehensive campaign strategy that includes door-to-door canvassing, social media outreach, and community events. Engage with voters personally and through digital platforms to spread your message and build support.

Step 6: Engage in Community Events

Participation in community events is crucial. These platforms offer you the opportunity to make your case directly to the electorate and gain visibility. 

Step 7: Get Out the Vote

As the election approaches, shift your focus towards maximizing voter turnout. You might want to organize rides to polling places, conduct reminder calls for voters, and use social media to encourage your supporters to vote.

As you can see, running for county legislature is an endeavor that allows you to make a significant impact on your community. It requires preparation, dedication, and a deep understanding of the local issues that affect your future constituents.

Get Support for Your Local Campaign 

If you're inspired to bring change to your community and you believe that running for county legislature is the right path for you, is ready to help with your independent campaign’s planning and launch. We offer free campaign tools to help with everything from budgeting to voter outreach. These tools are available for candidates who are running independent, non-partisan, and third-party campaigns across the United States.

Ready to get started? Book a meeting with our team to learn how you can get connected to the resources and support your county council campaign needs!

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How to Run for Office
County council
By Laurette LaLiberte
Laurette LaLiberte is an activist and freelance writer located in Michigan.