Filing fees are a common prerequisite to becoming a candidate and running for an office in the state legislature. In 33 states, candidates are either allowed or required to pay a filing fee to become a candidate. This page contains a brief history of filing fees, an overview of how they are set, a table detailing each state’s requirements and alternatives to fees for indigent candidates.
Filing fees were originally used to deter frivolous candidates from cluttering ballots and to help pay for the administration of elections. These fees could be exceptionally large. Some from the 1960s and 1970s were close to $40,000 once adjusted for inflation. Bullock v. Carter and Lubin v. Panish, two landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the early 1970s, held that filing fees were only constitutional when most candidates could afford them, and they should not be the only means available for filing as a candidate.
Today, filing fees are still used to deter frivolous candidates and to help fund elections, but each state also provides an avenue to indigent candidates who cannot pay the fees, generally by accepting petitions with voter signatures instead. For more information on petitions in lieu of filing fees, visit NCSL’s Petition Requirements to Run for the State Legislature webpage.
Approaches to Filing Fees
Filing fees are typically set by the state. Alabama, Arkansas and Delaware are the only states that allow the political parties to set the filing fees.
In 33 states, major party candidates are either allowed or required to pay a filing fee. The remaining 17 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands do not require major party candidates to pay a filing fee. States that do not require a filing fee generally require interested candidates to qualify through a petition process instead. State filing fees vary dramatically. Filing for a state house candidate in New Hampshire costs $2, while a Republican candidate for state senate in Alabama paid $1,079.12 to appear on the ballot in 2022, and a Democratic candidate paid $1,034.68 (in Alabama, the parties control the amount of the filing fee).
Twenty-six states impose fees on independent or unaffiliated candidates for state legislative seats. Of these, nine give the independent or unaffiliated candidate the option to file as indigent, removing the fee and using a signature requirement instead. For the 17 states that require a fee from individual candidates, the fee ranges from $15 in Montana to $250 in Hawaii and Mississippi.
According to Lubin v. Panish, states may not require indigent candidates to pay filing fees to become a candidate. In accordance, each state provides an alternative to a fee. State approaches to indigency vary. In some states, candidates can file for an exception to the filing fee, and upon approval, can become indigent candidates. They do not have to indicate they are an indigent candidate on any of their advertising or anywhere else. Other states require a filing fee, but provide an alternative petition option to all candidates. Others require no filing fee at all.
To determine fees, some states set a fixed amount and others set a percentage of the salary for the office. For example, Florida sets the fee at 4% of the annual salary for a legislator; Hawaii sets a fixed fee of $250. A unique approach to setting the filing fee is Utah’s $50 plus one-eighth of 1% of the annual salary for the position. Some states have higher filing fees for senators than for representatives.
Each state’s filing fees are listed in the table below.