How to Run for City Council

Contents


1. When are Council members elected?
2. Who is a candidate?
3. How do candidates get on the ballot?
4. What are the deadlines for this election year?
5. What about campaign finance regulations?



When are Council members elected?


All 17 positions on City Council – 10 District seats and seven at-large seats – are up for election every four years. Along with the election for Philadelphia’s mayor, the Council elections will be the most significant races in 2011.

Candidates seeking the nomination of the Democratic and Republican parties will first run in the May 17 municipal primary. The primary winners – one from each party for a Council district seat, five from each party for the seven Council at-large seats – will then run in the November 8 municipal election. Candidates running as an independent, or as a nominee of another minor political party, may also run in the November 8 election if they qualify to get on the ballot.

Back to the top



Who is a “candidate?”


The city’s campaign finance law, which applies to all candidates running for City Council, defines a “candidate” as someone who has publicly declared his or her candidacy or filed nomination petitions or papers to run for one of the city’s elective offices.

All candidates must comply with the city’s campaign finance law. However, there are special rules for spending money before officially becoming a candidate.

More information on “pre-candidacy” contributions can be found in Formal Opinion 2006-003 on the Board of Ethics website.

Back to the top


How do candidates get on the ballot?


TO GET ON THE BALLOT, CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATES MUST:


1.    File a statement of financial interests;
2.    File nomination petitions (for candidates running in the May 17 municipal primary) or nomination papers (for independent candidates running in the November 8 municipal election);
3.    Comply with campaign finance laws and submit campaign finance reports.

NOMINATION PETITIONS AND NOMINATION PAPERS


All individuals who would like to appear on the ballot for elected office in Pennsylvania must submit properly completed nomination petitions (for major party candidates) or nomination papers (for minor party candidates) with the required number of signatures for the office they seek. All nomination petitions, nomination papers and accompanying affifavits must be picked up in person from the Philadelphia Board of Elections. (Remember that individuals who have not publicly declared their candidacies are not considered official “candidates” under the city’s campaign finance law until they file nomination petitions or papers.)

Individuals planning to run as either a Democrat or Republican need to submit nomination petitions to get on the ballot for the May 17 municipal primary. Completing the petitions requires the signatures of at least 750 (for a district Council seat) or 1,000 (for an at-large Council seat) registered voters of the individual’s political party residing in their election district (the council district for those seeking district-based seats, or anywhere in Philadelphia for those seeking at-large seats).

Individuals have three weeks to collect signatures for the May 17 municipal primary: February 15 to March 8. Unless they withdraw by March 23, or their nomination petitions are successfully challenged in court, they will appear on the May 17 municipal primary ballot.

The winners of the Democratic and Republican party primaries automatically get to represent their respective parties in the November 8 general election. In district-based races, that is the top vote-getter from each party. For at-large seats, the top five vote-getters from each party primary go on to the general election.

Individuals may also run as independents, or under the name of a smaller party, such as the Green Party or Libertarians, but their process for getting on the ballot is different. They are not allowed to hold party primaries under state law, but still must meet certain qualifications to get on the November 8 municipal election ballot. To do so, candidates must gather the signatures of at least 2 percent of the highest number of total votes in the previous election for an office in that election district.

Here is what this means for the 2011 Council races: Individuals who wish to run for a Council at-large seat as an independent or minority party candidate need to collect 1,845 signatures, and candidates running for a district City Council seat need to collect 750 signatures. As with petitions in the party primaries, the signers must reside in the election district for district seats, or anywhere in the city for at-large seats. However, the signers may be registered with any political party or as an independent. There is a large window of time to collect the required number of signatures for nomination papers: between March 9 and August 1. Unless they withdraw by August 8, or their nomination papers are successfully challenged in court, the candidates will appear on the November 8 municipal election ballot.

The legal guidelines for circulating nomination petitions and papers are the most detailed requirements a candidate will encounter in a campaign. Candidates and their circulators (people who canvas and collect signatures for candidate) should make sure to understand and comply carefully with these requirements. Petitions that are not prepared in the correct way, or signatures that are not written according to the strict guidelines, may be challenged by opposing candidates in court and could be disqualified.

All signatures must be collected on forms that clearly show: 1. candidate's name, residence, and occupation; 2. party or political body; 3. date of the Election Day; 4. office sought; and 5. election district that the office serves. Circulators should be certain that each signer enters his or her signature, residence, and date of signature legibly and accurately, and that signers of nomination petitions or papers are registered voters of the particular district served by the office. In the case of nomination petitions for the party primaries, potential signers must be registered in the party whose nomination the candidate seeks (in other words, as a Democrat for Democratic candidates who want to be on the primary ballot or as a Republican for Republican candidates who want to be on the primary ballot). 

There are limits to how many times a voter may sign a nomination petition or paper of a candidate. For offices where only one person will be elected (such as a district council seat or mayor), an individual can sign only one nomination petition and one nomination paper. Where two or more persons can be elected to the same office (such as at-large council seats), an individual can sign nomination petitions or papers for as many candidates as he or she can vote for in the upcoming election. For example, a Democratic or Republican voter may sign for up to five at-large Council candidates in their respective parties since each party will nominate five candidates to run in the general election. 

AFFIDAVITS


Even after all the signatures are collected, there is a detailed legal process that must be followed to turn in the paperwork. Each individual sheet of paper containing signatures must be accompanied by a legal document known as an affidavit that is completed by the person who collected the signatures. Each circulator must swear that the signatures were collected properly and sign the affidavit in front of a notary.

When all the signature sheets and affidavits are completed and ready to submit to the Philadelphia Board of Elections (which is headed by three independently elected City Commissioners), the bundle must also be accompanied by a candidate’s affidavit. (Note: there are separate affidavits for candidates submitting nomination petitions and candidates submitting nomination papers.) The candidate’s affidavit must also certify that the signatures were collected properly and be signed by the candidate under oath in the presence of a notary.

STATEMENT OF FINANCIAL INTERESTS


Once nomination petitions or papers, circulator affidavits, and a candidate’s affidavit are completed, there is one final form that must be filled out: the “Statement of Financial Interests.” This is a pre-printed form in which candidates must disclose the details of their personal finances for the public record. Candidates are not allowed to appear on the ballot without submitting this form, and, once in office, elected officials must continue to submit this form every year (by May 1).

Candidates for City Council must submit two copies of this form, one copy to the city Department of Records, and the other copy (attached to their nomination documents) to the Philadelphia County Board of Elections.

FILING


Along with filing nomination petitions or papers, accompanying affidavits and the Statement of Financial Interests candidates for City Council , both district and at-large, must submit a $100 filing fee with the Philadelphia Board of Elections,

It’s worth repeating the filing deadlines since they are very important: The deadline for the 2011 primary is March 8 for party candidates submitting nomination petitions and August 1 for independent or minor party candidates submitting nomination papers. Missing the deadlines will disqualify a candidate from running in the election.

CHALLENGES


Once nomination petitions or papers are filed, individuals who have not publicly declared their candidacies are now formally considered “candidates.” But they still can be removed from the ballot. 

For one week after the March 8 filing deadline (for Democratic and Republican primary election candidates) and the August 1 deadline (for independent and minor party general election candidates), candidates (or any registered voters) may challenge the validity of any candidate’s paperwork, a process known as “filing an objection” with the local court.

This is a very important process since a judge can cancel any signature or even entire nomination petitions or papers if the signatures are not signed, collected or submitted in the proper way. Candidates that lose enough signatures to drop below the legally required minimum will be kicked off the ballot and not allowed to run in the election.

All nominating documents are open to the public. Any candidate or voter may inspect the document to check for violations and places where information was filled out incorrectly. Often well-funded and well-organized candidates use this as an opportunity to kick poorly funded or poorly organized challengers off the ballot. There are, in fact, campaign consultants who specialize in combing through an opponent's nomination petitions or papers looking for invalid signatures.

Objections must relate to the legal requirements required for petitions or papers in the Pennsylvania Election Code, such as whether the signers were registered voters within the election district, enrolled in the proper party, and signed and dated the petitions or papers themselves (as opposed to someone else doing it for them). Courts check the authenticity of a voter's registration by comparing a fresh copy of the signature on the nomination petition (or paper) with the voter's signature as it appears on his or her original voter registration card.

Objections brought against candidates for City Council must be filed with the Board of Elections and the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. When an objection is filed, the court must conduct a hearing on the objection within ten days after the last day for filing petitions and papers (by March 18 for Democrats and Republicans in the 2011 primary; by August 11 for independent and minor party candidates in the 2011 general election). Rulings on the objections must be made within fifteen days after the filing date, or no later than March 23 for the primary and August 16 for the general election.

Back to the top


What are the deadlines for the 2011 elections?


Although we have talked about the important filing dates already, anyone running for office (City Council or any other office in Pennsylvania on the 2011 ballot) should memorize the following calendar to avoid being disqualified. 

CALENDAR OF FILING DEADLINES FOR CANDIDATES IN 2011

 
 •   First day to circulate and file nomination petitions for candidates in the Municipal Primary: February 15
 •   Last day to circulate and file nomination petitions for candidates in the Municipal Primary: March 8
 •   Deadline for candidates submitting nomination petitions to file Statement of Financial Interests: March 8
 •   Immediately following last day to submit nomination petitions: County Board of Elections schedules date for drawing for ballot position: March 16
 •   First day to circulate and file nomination papers for independent candidates in the Municipal Election: March 9
 •   Last day for a candidate or any voter in the district to file a challenge to a candidates nomination petitions: March 15
 •   Last day for withdrawal by candidates who filed nomination petitions: March 23
 •   Deadline for elected officials to file Statement of Financial Interests: May 1
 •   Municipal Primary: May 17
 •   Last day to circulate and file nomination papers for independent candidates in the Municipal Election: August 1
 •   Deadline for candidates submitting nomination papers to file Statement of Financial Interests: August 1
 •   Last day for withdrawal for candidates nominated by nomination papers: August 8
 •   Last day for a candidate or any voter in the district to file a challenge to a candidates nomination papers: August 8
 •   Last day for withdrawal by candidates nominated at the Primary: August 15
 •   Municipal Election: November 8

Back to the top


What about the city’s campaign finance law?


City Council candidates must must comply with campaign finance rules of the City of Philadelphia and the State of Pennsylvania by filing campaign finance reports with the Philadelphia Board of Ethics (through the Philadelphia Department of Records) and the Philadelphia Board of Elections (City Commissioners).

As a candidate, it is just as important to understand the city’s campaign finance law as it is to know how to qualify for the ballot. The campaign finance law sets limits on political contributions to, and spending by, certain candidates and also requires candidates and political committees to disclose campaign finance information.

The best way to learn about the campaign finance law is to attend one of the Board of Ethics’ training sessions.
As a voter, and especially if you want to know how much you can donate to a political campaign, the Board of Ethics’ website has complete information about the law (including recent changes), frequently asked questions and advisory opinions which address specific questions about how to interpret the law in real-life situations. These advisory opinions are important since not every possible question can be answered just by reading the law itself.

It is also helpful to read about violations of the campaign finance law in actions brought by the Board of Ethics. The more you know as a candidate, the less likely you will be to make a mistake during your campaign (or even after you are elected since there are parts of the campaign finance law that pertain to elected officials).  

When are campaign finance reports due?


City Council candidates have to file campaign finance reports with the Philadelphia Board of Ethics, and the Philadelphia Board of Elections (City Commissioners). Candidates must file with the Philadelphia Board of Ethics through the Philadelphia Department of Records using online forms and with the Philadelphia Board of Elections using paper forms. For detailed instructions, consult with the appropriate office. 

Philadelphia Board of Ethics: http://www.phila.gov/ethicsboard/

Philadelphia Board of Elections (City Commissioners): http://phillyelection.com/

2011 CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORTING SCHEDULE
(Click on Links to see Reports)


(2010) Cycle 7:Annual Report
Report Close: 12/31/2010
Report Due: 1/31/2011

Cycle 1: Sixth Tuesday Pre-Primary
Report Close: 3/28/2011
Report Due: 4/5/2011

Cycle 2:
Second Friday Pre-Primary
Report Close: 5/2/2011
Report Due: 5/6/2011

Cycle 3: Thirty Day Post-Primary
Report Close: 6/6/2011
Report Due: 6/16/2011

Cycle 4:Sixth Tuesday Pre-Primary
Report Close: 9/19/2011
Report Due: 9/27/2011

Cycle 5: Second Friday Pre-Primary
Report Close: 10/24/2011
Report Due: 10/28/2011

Cycle 6: Thirty Day Post-Primary
Report Close: 11/28/2011
Report Due: 12/8/2011

Cycle 7: Annual Report
Report Close: 12/31/2011
Report Due: 1/31/2012

Back to top