Want to Run for Local Office? Here’s How.


By Staff Reports

Last year, after a Chapel Hill town council member left office midterm, 16 people applied to fill the vacancy. At the time, candidates only had to send an email or letter to the town clerk stating their interest.

Council decided to keep the seat empty, but the election on Nov. 2 this year will fill the vacancy, guaranteeing one new member of the governing body, as well as challenge any incumbents who choose to run for re-election.

Municipal elections are held in odd-numbered years. Though a term on council lasts four years, the system enables voters to turn over the council majority every two years because half of the council seats for both Chapel Hill and Carrboro will be up for vote, along with the title of mayor, which is only a two-year term. In 2021, voters will decide who will fill the seats held by council members elected in 2017.

To be considered for one of those seats, candidates must meet a few qualifications and follow the process laid out in election law. Here’s the step-by-step guide for filing to run for office:

You must fill out, sign and deliver a few forms to the Orange County Board of Elections in Hillsborough between noon on July 2 and noon on July 16. The cost to file is $15 for the Carrboro mayor seat, $10 for Carrboro council or Chapel Hill mayor seat, and $5 for Chapel Hill council seat, due at the time of filing.

Every candidate has to have a treasurer. Your treasurer must complete the state’s online compliance training: https://www.ncsbe.gov/campaign-finance/treasurer-training. A few times during the campaign, your treasurer must send the Board of Elections a report of how much money came into the campaign and from whom, and how the money was spent. You can be your own treasurer or recruit someone to do it for you, but not your spouse, precinct official or registered lobbyist. See more exceptions here: https://s3.amazonaws.com/dl.ncsbe.gov/Training/Campaign_Finance/Candidate_Committees/First_Steps/Appointment_of_Treasurer.htm.

You’ll need money for your campaign (yard signs, website expenses, printing and mailing brochures). Carrboro candidates have the option of filing “under threshold,” https://orangecountync.gov/DocumentCenter/View/16102/NewCandidateUnderThreshold?bidId=, declaring that they will raise no more than $1,000, and if so, they don’t have to fill out the treasurer reports. But Chapel Hill candidates do not have that option. As of this year, all Chapel Hill candidates must file “over threshold,” https://orangecountync.gov/DocumentCenter/View/16103/NewCandidateOverThreshold?bidId=.

Orange County Board of Elections staff are very helpful. They want you to succeed and stay within the law. They are happy to answer questions and provide guidance: https://orangecountync.gov/DocumentCenter/View/16118/What-You-Need-To-Know?bidId=.

Raleigh’s city council has been under fire recently for deciding behind closed doors to postpone its elections by a year. Raleigh elects its council members by district, and because the 2020 U.S. Census recorded that the city has grown, districts may be redrawn. Because Chapel Hill and Carrboro elect only at-large candidates, they do not have grounds to postpone the Nov. 2 election. Here’s more information from the state board of elections: https://www.ncsbe.gov/candidates/running-municipal-office.

Running for office can be time-consuming. You’ll want to recruit people to help you manage your campaign, set up and maintain a website and strengthen your social media presence. You’ll need a way for people to donate to your campaign, and you’ll need help organizing meet-and-greet opportunities for you to talk with constituents and ask for their support. You’ll want to reach out to various organizations and ask for their endorsement; don’t wait for them to come to you.

It all starts with filing the paperwork within the time frame. Then your journey to winning a seat at the decision-making table begins.

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1 Comment on "Want to Run for Local Office? Here’s How."

  1. This sentence does not apply to all potential candidates for CH Town Council: “You must fill out, sign and deliver a few forms to the Orange County Board of Elections in Hillsborough between noon on July 2 and noon on July 16.”

    I did that twice, because the OCBOE told me, incorrectly, that I was to file for CH office there. Staff there have historically had a poor knowledge of state election law, or, I understand from one of this year’s potential candidates, a remarkably poor ability to answer questions about it. Because of misdirection from OCBOE staff, my 2001 and 2005 filings were technically illegal. For all local offices, the filing is to happen in the county where the person is registered to vote.

    Someone else may run for Council again from Durham County. I don’t know who, or when, and I know it will not be I. But it’s legal to do if one lives on a lot for which some of the property tax goes to Chapel Hill.


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