How to Become a Candidate for State Legislator

6/3/2015

Two women talking at front doorThose seeking state legislative seats must take a number of steps to officially become a candidate. This page contains a general overview of the steps to take before becoming a candidate for a state legislative seat, and links to NCSL pages that cover this information in more depth.

This page is not intended to serve as a resource for an individual to become a candidate. For details on that, please consult your state’s requirements and procedures.

If you don’t see what you need, please contact us for more information.

Who Can Become A Candidate for State Legislator

Who Can Become a Candidate for State Legislator provides information concerning who may run for state senator and state representative. The specific topics include candidate qualifications and the differences in running as a party or non-party (independent) candidate.

To run for a state legislative seat, a potential candidate must meet certain qualifications. These qualifications generally fall into five categories: age, district residency, state residency, how long the potential candidate has been a U.S. citizen, and whether or not the potential candidate is a registered voter.

Candidates typically select from three choices when deciding how to run for office. They choose to be a major party candidate, a minor party candidate or an independent candidate. This choice defines not only how the public views the candidate, but also the regulations that govern the candidacy and campaign.

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How to Become a Candidate for State Legislator

States use a variety of methods to gauge candidate support and to deter frivolous candidates.  The two most prominent methods are 1) by imposing candidate filing fees and 2) requiring specific amounts of signatures on a nominating petition. Each state allows individual candidates to petition on the ballot, but the number of signatures varies from a low of 25 in Tennessee to Illinois' requirement that a candidate obtain support from five percent of the registered voters in the district.

Additionally, all states require candidtates to "file" with the state, indicating their intention to run.  

The three pages below provide an overview of paperwork requirements, filing fees and petition requirements in order to become a candidate for state legislator.

Paperwork Requirements

States require that potential candidates for state legislative seats file paperwork to qualify as a candidate. This page contains an overview of these requirements, an analysis of patterns in state regulations, and a 50-state chart detailing each state’s requirements.

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Petition Requirements

Some states require that potential candidates for state legislative seats file petitions when they file their candidate qualification paperwork. This page contains an overview of these requirements and an analysis of patterns in state regulations.

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Filing Fees

Some states require that potential candidates for state legislative seats pay a fee when they file their candidate qualification paperwork. This page contains an overview of these requirements, an analysis of patterns in state regulations, and a 50-state chart detailing each state’s requirements.

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About This NCSL Project

This project was created by Mark Listes, from William and Mary Law School, with assistance from Brian Cruikshank, also from William and Mary Law School, in coordination with NCSL's staff, Meghan McCann and Wendy Underhill.

NCSL tracks election and campaign issues in four major categories: election laws and procedures, campaign finance, initiative and referendum, and election results and analysis. We provide comprehensive 50-state research and analysis on a wide variety of topics related to these issues.

For redistricting, NCSL provides similar data that covers redistricting laws, commissions and litigation.

Additionally, NCSL's Redistricting and Elections Standing Committee works on issues that affect all states, including voting technology and redistricting systems and technology.

If you don't find the information you need, please contact our elections team at 303-364-7700 or elections-info@ncsl.org. NCSL staff can do specialized searches for legislators and legislative staff.

Additional Resources