Explainer: How do candidates get on the ballot?

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Candidates running for local, state or federal office follow a similar process to get on the ballot. 

Step 1: Decide on Political Party Affiliation   

The first step in the process is for candidates to decide on their party affiliation. For most, it is determining if they want to run as a Democrat or Republican. 

The Democratic party, also known as the “party of the people,”  is the oldest existing political party. It began in 1792. According to Scholastic, this party typically attracts “immigrants, blue-collar workers, women, and minorities. Democrats tend to take a more liberal stand on important issues. They believe that the federal government should take a more active role in people’s lives, particularly those who are in need.” 

The Republican party formed in 1854. According to Scholastic, “Republicans tend to take a more conservative stand on issues. They believe that the federal government should not play a big role in people’s lives. Most Republicans favor lower taxes and less government spending on social programs. They believe in less government intervention in business and the economy.” 

Step 2: Take Steps to Land a Spot on the Ballot 

There are many steps to run in a local, state or federal election. The steps are very similar. 

Have a campaign structure and organization 

Candidates need a team to help them run for election and take care of the behind-the-scenes work. Team members typically include: Campaign Manager, Fundraising Director, Communications Director and Networking Director. 

Have a campaign budget 

Candidates must have a budget for a number of expenses, such as workers’ salaries, fundraising, stationary, integrated marketing campaigns including digital advertising, and much more. 

Have a Communications Director 

The Communications Director on a campaign relays information about the candidate and states what the candidate “stands for” to the public. 

Have a Fundraising Director 

The Fundraising Director is responsible for raising money for the candidate’s campaign. 

Have a Campaign Manager

The Campaign Manager oversees all the campaign operations such as the budget and the Communications and Fundraising Directors.  

Step 3: File for Office 

With a campaign team in place, a candidate can now file for office. This means they have met the requirements to run for office. The U.S. constitution established three requirements to be eligible for presidential office: (1) the candidate has to be a natural born citizen (U.S. citizen since birth), (2) the candidate has to be at least 35-years-old and (3), the candidate must be a U.S. resident for at least 14 years. Once a candidate is eligible for election, primaries and caucuses are held.

Step 4: Participate in Primaries and Caucuses 

Once their names are placed on the ballot, candidates participate in primaries and caucuses before the general election. In primaries and caucuses, candidates are competing against members of their own political party to be elected by voters and to advance to the general election. 


According to USAGov, “In caucuses, party members meet, discuss, and vote for who they think would be the best party candidate. 


In primaries, party members vote in a state election for the candidate they want to represent them in the general election.”  

National Convention 

In presidential races, after the primaries and caucuses, each party holds a national convention to select a presidential nominee. After they have chosen a nominee, that nominee for each party chooses their vice president. When they have chosen their VP, they start campaigning around the country to convince the people to elect them. 

Participate in General Election 

All candidates who advance from primaries and caucuses at a local level and state level move into general election. For presidential candidates, they must also be nominated by their party in their respective National Convention before they advance to the general election. The winner of the general election is the overall winner of the election for president. 

Win the Electoral College (Presidential Candidates only) 

In presidential elections, “when people cast their vote, they are actually voting for a group of people called electors. The number of electors each state gets is equal to its total number of Senators and Representatives in Congress. A total of 538 electors form the Electoral College.”  Each elector casts one vote following the general election. The candidate who gets 270 votes or more wins. The newly elected President and Vice President are then inaugurated on January 20th.”

Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay

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Youth Voters Unite is a transmedia storytelling project produced by senior Communication majors at Cabrini University. Students in Senior Convergence: Media for Social Justice are reporting this academic year on the voting process and voting justice topics. Their goal is to educate youth voters on the importance of engaging in the political process and claiming their right to shape their own future. 


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