It’s Time to Run … for Office

It’s 2018. You open the news notification on your phone to find President Trump has announced on Twitter that he’s persecuting millennials found to be killing traditional industries, the pothole in front of your house hasn’t been filled, and Lincoln Chafee’s hair is running for governor again under the slogan ‘Feel the Chafe.’ “That’s the last straw!” you say to to yourself. It’s time to make a difference and run for office.

Okay but how? If you’re one of millions of Americans or dozens of Rhode Island Republicans, you want to run for office but you have no idea how. We here at Motif are going to provide a broad-strokes version of running for office. Unfortunately, electoral democracy is just a mite more complicated than we can fit in column inches, so please, please — the best resource for specific information on running is your local Board of Canvassers or the secretary of state’s office.

First, you can only run for local office if you live in the area the office represents. That means if you want to run for a Providence or Cranston City Council office, you better live in the same neighborhood you’re running to represent. Second, make a choice on a party. It’s no secret here that we’re heavy on Democrats in Li’l Rhody, so if you join with the Democrats your primary race may be more decisive and tighter than the regular race. And if you’re a Republican, well, you’ll have enough fellow members to fit in a phone booth. Third: “House of Cards” and “Scandal” show a version of politics heavy on sex and mayhem and low on just how much ungodly paperwork you have to fill in.

To start with, fill out a declaration of candidacy form, have it witnessed by two people and hand it in to your local Board of Canvassers. If you’re one of those people brave enough to run for federal office, hand it in at the State Board of Elections. After that, fill out and report campaign finance forms. All candidates are required to report contributions and expenditures and file quarterly reports with the Campaign Finance Office. This is a highly important section of running for office, and getting it wrong can get you run up on ethics or criminal charges. Here’s the link to the Campaign Finance office where they have everything you need to know:

So you know those neighbors you haven’t talked to in 10 years? You’re about to get very familiar with them as you’ll need their signatures if you want to appear on the ballot. These are called nomination papers. How many you need depends on the office you’re running for, and again, the people who can sign yours are typically the people who you’ll be representing. For your local offices, check with your local board of canvassers because requirements will vary from town to town. The RI General Assembly requires 50 signatures for the House and 100 for the Senate. If you want to run for governor, you’ll need 1,000. Anything below that, like lieutenant governor or secretary of state, requires a cool 500. You’ve only got a couple of weeks to do this; traditionally it happens in July of the year of the election.

And voila! Broadly speaking, do the above and you’re on the ballot for election day. But it takes a lot more than that to run for office. You should become an active citizen in your community now and get a feel for the issues in your area. Bite the bullet and ask that aunt you never talk to for money — electoral democracy is an expensive habit. I hope you enjoy cardio, too, because you’re gonna do a lot of walking to canvass for votes. People will slam the door in your face, but if you’ve spent any time on Tinder, you’re already prepared for rejection. Most importantly, don’t be another one of those cookie-cutter candidates who runs for ego and the career, and only pays lip service to local communities and their issues. Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

And don’t take bribes. We keep losing politicians that way.

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