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How to Run for State Legislature

2 min read
Indiana State Capitol
Good Party Politics Team · Apr 1, 2024

Anyone can make an impact on local and national politics by voting, but if you want to make a bigger impact, you might want to consider running for office. Serving in your state legislature is a great option. As lawmakers, state representatives and senators have a huge impact on the daily lives of their constituents. 

In this guide, we’ll unpack the essential steps of running for state legislature:

#1: Start With Research

The political process starts with research. First, take some time to understand the dynamics and structure of your state legislature. 

State legislatures in the United States are bicameral in all but one state, Nebraska, which has a unicameral legislature. Bicameral legislatures consist of two chambers: a lower house, often called the House of Representatives or the Assembly, and an upper house, known as the Senate. Members of the lower house are typically elected for two-year terms, while senate terms can be either two or four years, depending on the state. The primary function of state legislatures is to enact state laws. They may also have responsibilities such as approving budgets, confirming executive appointments, and redistricting. The structure and responsibilities of state legislatures are defined by each state's constitution.

After understanding the structure of your state legislature, you need to understand the demographics of your district, including factors such as local incomes, age brackets, and political affiliations. That will help you plan your campaign, but even more importantly, it will help you serve the people in your district once you join the legislature. You should also try to understand the area's political landscape, from party affiliations to public opinion on recent bills and statutes. Try to figure out what people like and what they want to see changed. If you know what people want changed, you’ll know what legislation they most want you to support in the state legislature.

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#2: Check Your Eligibility

All states have their own rules determining who can join the state senate or assembly. It is vital that you check on your state's candidate eligibility requirements to make sure that you qualify to be able to run for office. Most states have age requirements, but like all candidate eligibility requirements, they vary between states. The eligibility criteria may also include residency requirements. 

While enforcement of candidate eligibility criteria is strict, most requirements are easy to understand. You just need to verify your eligibility to run for the legislative branch before you get started planning your campaign. If you do not meet the standards for candidate eligibility, you can still get experience by volunteering until you do meet the candidate eligibility standards. You can also gain experience by running for a more local office that you do qualify for, such as city council or school board. That way, you will know exactly how things work when you have the eligibility to run.

#3: Determine Your Campaign Goals

The policy-making process should always start with clear goals. You may want to address a specific problem in your community, remove outdated statutes, or simply enter the state legislature to ensure that your community has adequate representation in the legislative branch. You may even want to change the system by passing an amendment to your state’s constitution. Whatever your aspirations may be, you should identify them and keep specific, attainable goals in mind while running for the state legislature.

You also need to figure out how to communicate those goals to voters. After all, they need to understand your platform if they are going to vote for you. Break those goals up into small, digestible pieces. If possible, refer to specific state laws that already exist or have been proposed so people know where you stand. This part is vital, so you may want to get some help from experienced advisors or other support groups. The NCSL, or National Conference of State Legislatures, can be a good place to start. Campaign support software, such as Good Party's free campaign tools, can also help you communicate your policy making goals to voters.

#4: Gather Your Campaign Resources

Political campaigning can be expensive, so you need to work out an estimate of your expenses. While campaigning for your state legislature will likely not be as expensive as running for a federal office like the U.S. House of Representatives or Senate, it will likely be more expensive than running for a local office.

To give you an idea of how much you might have to raise to effectively run for office, consider these statistics from 2018-2020:

  • In Arizona, Republican candidates for the state legislature raised an average of $51,490. Democratic candidates raised an average of $48,450.

  • In Florida, Republican candidates for the state legislature raised an average of $108,513, while Democratic candidates raised an average of $37,424.

  • In Minnesota, Republican candidates for the state legislature raised an average of $8,577. Democratic candidates raised an average of $11,874.

  • In Texas, Republican candidates for the state legislature raised an average of $152,953, while Democratic candidates raised an average of $119,046.

  • In Wisconsin, Republican candidates for the state legislature raised an average of $21,809. Democratic candidates raised an average of $20,437.

As you can see from these numbers, the amount of money that candidates typically raise varies greatly from state to state.

Many states also require candidates to pay a filing fee before running for office. These fees are only constitutional if most candidates can pay them, so they will rarely break the bank, but you will need to budget for them.

You’ll also need to budget for transportation costs to attend campaign events, rental space for any facilities you may need, and various other expenses. Try to be flexible when you plan for these expenses; your estimates will never be perfect, and it can be hard to predict your ability to raise funds. That means you’ll need to factor in a margin of error to deal with surprises.

#5: Collect Voter Signatures

Most states require candidates to collect a certain number of voter signatures on a petition in order to run for the legislature. This is one of the first hurdles that you need to overcome in order to take part in state politics. It can also be one of the hardest and most expensive. Gathering signatures can take a lot of work, so you’ll need to be able to attract and manage a team of volunteers to get the job done. This is another area where you should look into getting help from advisors or support software to maximize your chances of success.

#6: Establish Your Campaign Infrastructure

Getting your name on the ballot is only the first step. Once you have qualified to run for office, you’ll need to set up your campaign infrastructure. You’ll need to build a campaign website, set up your campaign's social media, prepare your messaging for voters, and more.

You’ll want to build a team to help run your campaign and keep everything running smoothly. Some of your team members can be technical experts who can manage your campaign’s digital presence, while others could be experienced political staffers who can help you navigate the whole process. Some of them may even be machines. Modern AI makes it possible to automate many tasks, which lowers the cost of running for the state legislature and makes it accessible to more people.

#7: Raise Funds for Your Campaign

The good news is that you do not need to come up with all of the money before you get started. In general, you should rely on donations from a large number of relatively small donors, and you need to set up the infrastructure to facilitate those donations. Your campaign website should support digital donations, and you may want to allocate time for fundraising events during your campaign. You will also need to develop an outreach plan, such as sending out emails to voters to ask for their support. 

#8: Reach Out to Voters

Voter outreach relies on many of the same techniques as fundraising, though with a different end goal. Phone banking is a great example of voter outreach. This technique relies on calling people to talk with them about local politics, educate them on issues, and urge them to vote for your campaign. Canvassing a neighborhood in person works much the same way, while letting you and your team of volunteers connect with voters in person.

While voter outreach techniques vary, the core goal is the same for all of them: you need to talk to voters, gauge their feelings, educate them about your platform and intended legislation, and convince them to vote for you. It takes planning, coordination, and effort, but it can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of your campaign.

#9: Get Out the Vote

Your last job on the campaign trial is to make sure that as many of your supporters get to the polls as possible on election day. That is often easier said than done; even elections for a major governing body can have relatively low turnout rates, with a high degree of variation between demographics. The rates for state elections may be even lower.

To some extent, voter turnout is outside of your control. Even the weather can have an impact on it, and you can't control that. On the other hand, you can do a lot by urging your voters to get to the polls and reminding them of the details they’ll need for election day. If you excel at this, you can gain a major advantage by having more of your voters make it to the polls than those of your opponents.

#10: Take Advantage of Free Campaign Tools

In many ways, state legislatures dominate governance at a practical level. They regulate most law enforcement, shape employment law, and even draft the constitutional amendments that shape state government. Taking a seat in the legislature is an exciting prospect.

Good Party can help you gain the upper hand while running for office. Good Party's AI Campaign Manager and community can automate many of the tasks associated with running for office, while giving you a built-in network of support. 

Our tools and community are available for independent, non-partisan, and third-party candidates for state legislature across the United States. Our goal is to empower more people-powered, anti-corruption candidates to run viable campaigns and make a real difference in their communities.

Ready to get started with free tools and resources? Book a free consultation with our team about launching or leveling up your campaign for state legislature.


Photo by Brijesh Reddy on Unsplash

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How to Run for Office
Indiana State Capitol
By Good Party Politics Team
The GoodParty.org politics team is focused on transforming the political landscape by promoting transparency, accountability, and positive change. They aim to engage citizens in the political process, encourage informed decision-making, and support candidates who prioritize the common good. Their mission revolves around creating a more fair and just political system, fostering collaboration, and breaking down traditional barriers of partisanship.