It’s no secret that a growing percentage of the Virginia electorate are growing tired and mistrustful of the two-party duopoly that currently controls our political system. More Virginia voters than ever identify as independent – with 18% of the electorate professing no lean towards either party. But the question remains: how does one go about running for office in Virginia as an independent candidate?
Running for office and campaigning in Virginia as an independent candidate can seem like some confusing, obtuse process – and that’s exactly what the two major political parties want would-be candidates to think. In reality, the process of campaigning in Virginia isn’t some impossible, Herculean task that only someone backed by the Democratic or Republican parties can achieve. In this article, we’ll break down the process for how to run for office as an independent in Virginia to demonstrate that not only is it not impossible, it’s actually imperative that more and more independent candidates have their voices heard through the process of running for office themselves.
Let’s get into it, starting from ground zero.
Depending on which public office in Virginia you’re running for, the requirements, deadlines, and resources necessary to mount challenges successfully will differ. Running for city council is different from running for mayor, which is different from running for Congress, which is different from running for governor. But first, let’s break it down by highlighting the requirements all candidates in Virginia must meet, regardless of what election they’re running in, and then we’ll dive into the specifics-by-office. So, per the Virginia Department of Elections…
Nothing too crazy there either!
Okay, that seems to make sense. So far so good! If you’ve met these three basic requirements – and if you’re running for office in Virginia, you should easily clear these benchmarks – then you can advance to ensure you’ve filed all the necessary paperwork to the State of Virginia by specific deadlines. These requirements differ as it pertains to local races and statewide races, so we’ll start with local requirements and then address the requirements for running statewide.
Okay, this next section might get a bit dry, because it involves a lot of specific paperwork filing requirements. This is not flashy stuff – but it’s imperative to understand and adhere to these Virginia election guidelines in order to get your name on the ballot as an independent. For all of the following forms and paperwork, the deadline to file them will change per election. For the 2023 special election season, those deadlines can be found on page 4 of the Virginia Department of Elections’ How To Run For Local Office bulletin.
Complete and submit the Statement of Economic Interests form if you are running for a constitutional office*, or if you’re running for any seat in which the representative population is 3,500 or greater.
*What’s a constitutional office? To put it simply, the offices of the governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of the State, State Treasurer, State Comptroller and State Attorney General are considered constitutional offices.
Incumbents running for re-election are not required to fill out the Statement of Economic Interests all over again.
Candidates running for a party primary must submit a primary filing fee. But independent candidates – i.e., anyone not running for a party primary – don’t need to pay this fee! Nice.
Fill out and submit your Declaration of Candidacy.
Collect the requisite amount of petition signatures for the office you’re running for, and submit them via the Petition of Qualified Voters form. Each race in Virginia requires a different amount of signatures based on the size of the voter pool for that office specifically to successfully declare your candidacy. Here’s what you need to know for the signature requirements per office:
Any town with less than 1,500 registered voters: 0 signatures
Any ward or district not at-large: 25 signatures
Any election district not at-large with under 1,000 registered voters: 50 signatures
Any town with 1,500-3,000 registered voters: 50 signatures
Any town with more than 3,000 registered voters: 125 signatures
Any county or city-level seat: 125 signatures
Any candidate for constitutional office: 125 signatures
Soil & Water Conservation Director: 25 signatures
All other local offices: 50 signatures
U.S. House of Representatives: 1,000 signatures
U.S. Senate: 3,500 signatures
Complete and submit a Statement of Organization for a Candidate
Submit your Campaign Finance Reports!
The Virginia Department of Elections will have reporting deadlines posted on their website
Phew! So there’s certainly no shortage of paperwork to have in order, and to turn in by very specific deadlines. However, running a campaign and getting your name on the ballot certainly consists of more than simply filling out the requisite paperwork – remember, filling out these forms is the bare minimum all candidates must fulfill to be eligible to run for office.
An important distinction for independent Virginia political candidates is between independent candidates and write-in candidates. Though they may seem like similar “non-party affiliated” forms of candidacies, they are very different by nature. Independent candidates, while avoiding certain party-based stipulations like party primaries, still must fill out all required paperwork to ensure ballot access – that is, their name will show up on the ballot of the jurisdiction and office they are running in.
Write-in candidates, by contrast, don’t need to fill out any paperwork specifically, as their campaigns rest solely on their supporters writing in their name on the ballot whenever they decide to cast their vote. For this reason, write-in candidates are essentially, by definition, less formal than declared independent campaigns, and also tend to attract fewer votes than declared independents who have their names on the ballot. Write-in candidates are those running for office who eschew the traditional paperwork of campaigning and rely solely on publicity and word-of-mouth to inspire their supporters to write-in their name on their ballot.
Declared independents, by contrast, must fill out all requisite paperwork and financial disclosures in order to earn guaranteed ballot access. For this reason, declared independents tend to fundraise at much more significant levels than write-in candidates, who tend to mostly be “protest” votes. Very rarely in American politics has the write-in candidate ever mounted a significant challenge in any election, let alone won.
In recent times, a write-in candidate to successfully win election was Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski in 2010 – although she had the enormous advantage of being the incumbent Senator. Her situation was particularly unique, because despite being the incumbent Senator from Alaska, she lost the GOP primary for the 2010 Senate race and ran a write-in campaign and ultimately won the general election, defeating both the Democratic candidate and the Republican candidate. Again – her story is exceedingly rare in American politics.
Running for office in Virginia at any level of public service isn’t easy – but it’s absolutely worth it, as now more than ever, people are clamoring for independent voices to represent them at any and all levels of government. This post isn’t a “How To” on winning any given race, because the specifics and window of victory will differ greatly for each individual election and each individual candidate. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to winning public office.
What Good Party is committed to doing is demystifying the process for running as an independent – clarifying that yes, though there are hardcore requirements you must meet as a declared independent, this stuff is not impossible or hidden knowledge. Good Party is committed to providing campaigning tools for independents who do declare to run for office in Virginia – and elsewhere, across the nation – so that the uphill climb towards serving in public life as a non-partisan independent doesn’t have to be so steep in comparison to running under the banner of a major political party.
Not only is it feasible and possible to win election at any level of government in Virginia as an independent, it’s more important than ever before to give the Virginia election legitimately different choices for their public leaders. All it takes is one independent victory to demonstrate to others that it actually is possible to represent and influence government independently of the chokehold the two major parties have on our government and political system. And at a time when public faith in either of the two major parties are hitting historic lows, the time is ripe as ever for independent challengers to declare their candidacies, check off all necessary requirements for securing ballot access, and fight to represent their constituents from a people-first perspective outside of the two-party duopoly.
If you’re interested in running for office as an independent candidate, book a meeting with Good Party and get access to our free campaign tools for independent campaigns.
Photo Credit: Stephen Poore