Illinois Offices

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I was first elected to a four-year term on my local park district board in 2003 and re-elected in 2007. Here's what I know and how I did it.

Your mileage may vary -- consult with an attorney familiar with election law if you are unfamiliar and need guidance on election law.

Contents

State Campaigns versus Local Campaigns

The advice below is based on running for municipal offices.

If you would like to run for State Representative or Senator the advice would be fairly similar, although it might be worth your while to be more familiar with the local political party. Also, as of 1/1/2011 fundraising disclosure laws now make a distinction between state and local candidates and campaigns.

Local Elections are in Odd-Numbered Years

Illinois municipal elections -- called Consolidated Elections -- occur in odd-numbered years on the first Tuesday in April. Because of the state's Constitution, many municipalities actually overlap and one community may have separate municipalities for village, library, park district, elementary schools, high schools and even community college, water service, etc. Each municipality will have its own elected board (trustees, commissioners, etc) and some will also have elected executives (mayor, clerk, etc).

Most municipalities do not have primaries but some do depending on the number of candidates filing and whether or not the municipality has partisan elections. Many municipalities (esp. those like school, library or park districts) have non-partisan elections which means you do not declare a political affiliation.

Things may be different for the City of Chicago. I'm wholly unfamiliar with how elections work in Chicago.

Info and Forms Available from State Board of Elections

The State Board of Elections has all the info on General Primaries and Elections (even-numbered years, for statewide and Federal offices) and Consolidated Primaries and Elections (odd-numbered years, for municipalities) that you'll ever need, though you may need a lawyer, campaign pro, or decent committeeman to explain them to you.

Illinois State Board of Elections info page

The ISBE website also links to Candidate Guides, blank nominating petitions, and other valuable resources.

Technically, the administrative center for any municipality -- ie, village hall, school administration building, library headquarters, etc -- is also supposed to have candidate packets (incl. blank copies of all paperwork, incl. nominating petitions) though they may not always be aware of this. It's best to consult the State Board of Elections website and/or your local county clerk to make sure you have all the material you need.

Usual Schedule

This is for an election with no primary.

Elections with a primary (or with the potential for a primary) have an earlier schedule.

State law regarding municipal elections (ie, local offices) was changed in 2010 so the schedules are different in order to accommodate Early Voting.

Candidate packets (incl. petition forms, etc) are usually available in about September the year before the Consolidated Election -- or, one month before the petitions can be circulated.

Petitions may be circulated from roughly the end of September to the beginning of December. Start as early as you can, recruit friends and neighbors you trust to help and collect signatures steadily.

Petitions generally should be turned into the administration center of the municipality. Double-check where they are to be turned in (all the hard work of collecting signatures goes to waste if you give them to the wrong office).

Signature challenges and your last chance remove yourself from the ballot are in the few weeks after petitions are due.

The Consolidated Election usually takes place the first Tuesday in April depending on holidays (ie, Passover).

Petitions

The number of signatures required for the petitions can vary depending on the office, population and the number of voters in the last election. Petitions are to gain ballot access -- meaning, your fellow residents are signing the petition to have you placed on the ballot. Petition signers do not have to vote for you, or even vote at all. They just have to be registered voters residing within the district for which you are running for office.

In Illinois, you can obtain a list of voter records for your municipality from your County Clerk. You can use that list to verify who is registered to vote versus who is not. You can use that data to create an Excel or other database file and then list out voters by street address. That way you'll know you are going to homes of registered voters and skip houses of those who are not registered.

Some petition requirements may also include a maximum amount of signatures, in addition to the minimum.

You generally want to turn in roughly 150%-200% of the minimum signatures required. This is your back-up in case an opponent (or an opponent's lackey) challenges your petitions somehow.

Keep a few blank petitions with you at all times -- especially if your neighbors or any local organizations or sports teams you participate in have a gathering like a meeting, party, tournament or other event. When I collect signatures I generally do a combo of standing near a gathering spot (after asking permission) and going door-to-door, especially in the neighborhood you live in. A commuter train station, the local coffee shop, a grocery store, the library, etc. are all good places to gather signatures if you have permission from the manager/owner.


Fundraising Disclosures

Any candidate or committee that either raises or spends more than $3000.00 must file financial disclosure forms, typically with the county and state. These forms are available at the State Board of Elections FAQ page linked above.

State law was changed beginning on January 1, 2011 to impose limits on the size of contributions. Check the State Board of Elections website for the latest info on donation limits.

In addition, some home rule municipalities may have imposed even more strict limits than what the state imposes. Check local ordinances for details.

However, even in some of the larger communities like East St. Louis, Peoria, Rockford, and Schaumburg, etc. it's probably unlikely a candidate will need to spend (and therefore need to raise) more than three grand. Yard signs, brochures and even two or three mailings can be done for under $2,000/2,500 -- if you agree with My Advice noted below.


My Advice: Target Voters

Try to find out who the local elections voters are -- it's a far smaller number than you might imagine. Also, try to determine which precincts have higher percentage turnout.

In Cook County this is relatively easy. The County Clerk's office will provide, for a nominal fee, a CD-ROM with a database of registered voters and the past few years' worth of elections. Call or visit the Elections Division office for info.

Cook County Clerk's website, go to the Elections section

If you know a computer programmer who can develop a quick script for organizing the archive, or even if you know Excel or similar and are working with a small file (like a school district or park district), you can easily sort the voter info to determine who regularly votes in municipal elections and primaries -- these are your target voters.

You may also be able to use the info to see if there are precincts which stand out as high-turnout areas (areas with apartment buildings or neighborhoods where the polling place is very close to the homes will often have routinely high turnouts).

Other counties in Illinois may also have these archives available electronically -- contact the County Clerks for the counties within which your district resides.

My Advice: Comfortable Shoes

Bootstraps and shoe leather... Going door to door is your best and most rewarding method of getting name recognition; it'll trump ads, yard signs and mailers any day. It gives people a chance to put the person (and personality) to the name. It lets you ask voters if they have questions or concerns -- which you can turn into the issues you run on.

It also lets you give people a leave-behind -- a brochure or walk card with info -- and lets you ask if they wouldn't mind having a yard sign up for just a few weeks ("It's only til the beginning of April.")

Keep a list of families you visit and what their reaction is; especially if there's something you may need to follow-up on.

Find some volunteers to help: Recruit the other parents from your kids' class or Little League teams. Check with folks from your church. Talk to neighbors you know well. Ask people in the civic or social or special-interest clubs you belong to. Do a little networking...

You'll be pleasantly surprised to learn how many of your friends or even acquaintances would like to help you out. Even if they just take 15 brochures to give to the homes on their block, it will help!

My Advice: Getting the Word Out (Brochures, Mailers, Website, etc)

If you know a graphic designer -- or can find one through places like Daily Kos or local DFA chapters -- setting up a unique, recognizable "identity system" for your campaign will help voters recognize you, your campaign, and your message. The basics could include a logo, a typeface or two and a specific color which would be carried across from yard signs to brochures to whatever you need.

At the very least you should have a brochure or walk card (card that you take along for walking door to door). This could be designed in such a way to either be a self-mailer or to fit in an envelope for mailing. The nuts and bolts brochure should include who you are and why you're running (what you'd like to do). Some contact info (even if it's a PO Box) is a must in case someone wants a yard sign or would like to volunteer.

With the ease of setting up websites (even one based at a free web host) you should also consider putting your biography, message and ideas online.

You may also consider having mailers on specific topics (as simple as a postcard or as fancy as a brochure/oversize card) if you have the money (or can raise from your friends and family). Work with your voter database to target people for a mailing list.

My Advice: Yard Signs

You know which streets in your community are the main drags -- whether it's Main Street with cars whizzing by or those neighborhood throughways that everyone takes to commute back and forth. There of course may also be homes or willing businesses across from schools, parks, the library, popular restaurants, and other gathering spots.

Even if these homes or shops aren't in your "high-turnout precincts" or near your list of regular voters go talk to the homeowners and business managers. Introduce yourself, explain why you're running, offer them a brochure and ask if they wouldn't mind displaying a yard sign. If you do this in early to mid-March the sign will only be up for a few weeks.

Keep a list of every place that has a sign and be sure to go back to clean it up (and leave a thank you note). Homeowners could also be added to your targeted voters list if only to keep them up to date on your campaign.

Getting your yard signs up is like putting out little billboards all over town. It helps people to recognize your name and also lends itself to feelings of trustworthiness (otherwise why would so many people have your sign up?). But, be realistic -- you may find after all is said and done that you only needed half of the yard signs you thought you needed.

My Advice: Ask for More Advice

Local elected pols in your area will know what it's like to get elected. There will be other folks running for different offices. Some towns have neighborhood associations with a president. Call them. Introduce yourself, explain why you're running and ask if they have any words of advice. Even people who may not agree with you politically are generally very open to discussing the process and their experiences.

Remember, these people (incl. your opponents and esp. the voters) are your neighbors -- you'll have to live with them and the things you do and say well after the election. Play nice in the sandbox.

Even if you're not running for mayor or for village board, be especially vigilant to call these people because they lead your town. The mayor is the titular head of the community and if you aren't already familiar with each other you should make yourself known out of courtesy.

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