More than half of all Pennsylvanians do not strongly identify as either Democrat or Republican.
Yet in 2017, the entire general assembly, and every statewide officeholder including the Governor belong to a major party. Because of this, the views of the majority of Pennsylvanians are effectively unrepresented in the state government. Clearly, something is broken. But how do we fix it?
Running for office as a political outsider is one way to make an impact. A third-party candidate can get significant attention with nothing more than a website and a few well-done videos on social media. It has become so common for voters to only see D’s and R’s on the ballot that seeing a Green, Libertarian, Independent, or other party on the ballot seems out of place.
Running as a third party normalizes the presence of minor parties and independents as choices. Most importantly, not running as a D or R allows you to run as yourself, without having to compromise your principles to gain the favor of a major party.
PA holds a general election every year on the first Tuesday in November. The big show happens every four years with the presidential election. Presidential election years include many statewide races such as Attorney General and Treasurer.
There are three paths to becoming an elected official in PA:
- The major party route
- The independent or minor party route
- A write-in campaign
Major Party Candidacy
The most common method is to seek nomination as a major party candidate, i.e. as a Republican or Democrat. This process starts in January with the collection of signatures on nomination petitions to gain access to the Primary election in May. Winners of the primaries move on to the general election in November. PA has closed primaries, meaning that only registered Republicans and Democrats can vote in their respective primaries in spite of the fact that the primaries are paid for with taxpayer money.
The second path is to run as a minor party or “political body” candidate. In 2017 PA has two recognized Minor Parties – the Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania and the Green Party of Pennsylvania.
According to current election law a “Minor Party” is recognized if any candidate of that party received more than 2% of the vote in the previous general election.
Relative to other parties and independents, minor party status has two benefits:
- The name of the Minor Party is listed as a choice on the voter registration form.
- The Minor Party may nominate candidates for special elections without collecting any
All parties not classified as Major or Minor, as well as independents, are recognized as “Political Bodies” under state law. With the exception of special elections, both minor parties and political bodies follow the same process to gain ballot access.
The third option is to choose to bypass the ballot completely and run a write-in campaign. While write-in campaigns do not require going through the elaborate hoop-jumping required to have your name printed on the ballot, the odds of winning as a write-in against a major party candidate are low.
Qualifications for Running for Office
Before you commit to running for office make sure you are qualified to do so. The qualifications for state and national offices are specified in the PA Constitution. The rules for municipal offices can vary from county to county depending on the County’s home rule charter. For municipal office requirements, check with your county board of elections.
If you are not qualified, but decide to run anyways, it is likely one of your opponents will challenge your ballot access in court. If this happens you will almost certainly lose.