Whether you’re a veteran officeholder or first-time candidate, it’s never easy to raise your hand and ask the voters to “Pick me.”
But if you’re going to do it, now is the time. Candidates for local offices have until Jan. 2 to gather signatures and file the necessary paperwork to get their names on the ballot for the Spring Election.
Getting on the ballot isn’t hard, but it takes some legwork and attention to detail. If you decide to run for office, don’t make things any harder on yourself or your supporters by neglecting details that could keep you off the ballot.
Here are the key things candidates need to know about getting on the ballot and getting to Election Day without running afoul of the rules.
Your first step should be to get one of the Wisconsin Elections Commission’s checklists: http://elections.wi.gov/candidates/local/non-partisan. We have customized checklists for candidates for county, municipal and school district offices which will let you know what you need to do to get your name on the ballot.
The first item on the checklist is to file a Campaign Registration Statement (Form ETHCF-1) with the local filing officer (your county, city, village, town or school district clerk).
The second is the Declaration of Candidacy Form, known as the EL-162 for most candidates and the EL-162sd for school board candidates. You can get it from your local clerk’s office, or you can download it from our website: http://elections.wi.gov/forms. That form requires only a few pieces of information about who you are, what office you’re seeking and where you live.
The third form – the one that trips up some candidates – is the EL-169, Nomination Paper for Nonpartisan Office. This is the petition form you or your supporters need to circulate for signatures of people who support putting your name on the ballot.
The most important part of this form is the header. Make a mistake here by forgetting to fill in the election date or your address, and it could invalidate entire pages of signatures and risk dropping below the required minimum number of signatures.
One incumbent mayor or a supporter forgot to put his mailing address on three petition pages, which invalidated 28 of the 223 signatures he submitted, bringing him just below the 200 required signatures.
In another case, a school board candidate turned in petitions with 106 signatures, but failed to include the election date in the header on two of the pages, which resulted in a challenge that cost her 16 signatures and brought her below the required 100 signatures.
So, always make sure you have enough signatures because you never know what problems might occur. Your clerk will tell you both the minimum number of signatures you need and the maximum you can submit.
When you or your supporters are circulating your papers, pay attention to how people fill in their information. You need both a signature and a legibly printed name in addition to the person’s address.
When you have all your paperwork together, your next step is to file. Do not dally! For the 2018 Spring Election, the deadline to have your original paperwork at the clerk’s office is no later than 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. If a sick child or heavy traffic means you’re late by even one minute, you’re out of luck. Faxing and emailing don’t count.
Along the way to the primary on Feb. 20 and the election on April 3, you will need to file campaign finance reports with your local clerk’s office.
When you and your supporters go door-to-door, don’t leave campaign literature in people’s mailboxes if they’re not home. The Post Office frowns on it, and somebody may complain.
Yard signs are another potentially sticky area, especially if you and your supporters put them near a polling place. In Wisconsin, it’s against the law to electioneer within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place on Election Day. It’s legal to be just outside that radius, but I guarantee you it will generate a complaint to the clerk, the police or the Elections Commission.
When Election Day finally arrives, don’t wear campaign hats, shirts or buttons when you go to vote. And don’t linger around the polling place to avoid being accused of electioneering.
That’s it. Get yourself a candidate checklist and follow these rules, and you’ll be able to focus on the campaign and the issues, not distractions that could cost you the election.