How to Run for Office in New York

The State of New York has 13 million registered voters. Of those, 6.5 million are registered as Democrats, and 2.8 million are registered as Republicans. Governor Andrew Cuomo is a Democrat, and the state legislature is majority Democrat.

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An analysis of the 2020 elections in New York revealed a concerning detail: while Republicans lost ground among voters, Democrats, in general, didn’t gain any. Why so concerning? Well, New York is a strong blue state, yet here—like in other areas of the country—Democrats under-performed in the general election. In fact, New York Dems lost 2 House seats to Republicans.

Today, after Republicans’ awful voting record on the latest 2021 stimulus bill passed under President Biden, political action is clearly more important than ever. But it doesn’t have to be harder than ever, and that’s why we’re offering New Yorkers like you this handy guide to help jumpstart your run for office in the great State of New York.

What office should I run for?

If you’re interested in running for office in New York, the very first step is figuring out exactly which political office you want to run for.

In New York, you can run for a number of positions at the federal, state, and local levels:

How do you know which level of government and position is right for you?

Well, it depends, in part, on the impact you want to have and what it is that you hope to impact.

At the federal level, you can help shape the federal laws that impact education, healthcare, minimum wage, education, oversight, and more.

At the state level, you can work on policies that impact minimum wage for the state, shape local economies, and ensure state-level healthcare is adequate (e.g., pandemic support). For example, comptrollers help ensure taxpayer dollars are spent effectively on state and local levels.

At the local level, you can help shape local budgets, laws, and plans for local industry, infrastructure, and general management (e.g., plans to manage forested lots to ensure their continued health and prosperity).

As you can see, you have plenty of options to choose from for political seats in New York State. What you hope to achieve, the issues you’re passionate about, how much you want to travel, and any number of other factors will ultimately affect your decision. But that decision starts with reviewing and considering the different political offices you might fill.

Who am I campaigning against?

Once you’ve determined what level of office and what issues you’re passionate about working on, you need to answer two questions: who’s currently in that office, and why can you do a better job?

If you’re not sure where to look to see who’s in a certain office, you can search on state and local websites. For example, the city of Albany’s website will direct you to your local council members, the mayor, public meetings and hearings, and videos of government proceedings. All of these choices can help you understand the inner workings of your local government and where you might best fit within it.

When you find a position where you feel like a natural fit and identify your likely opponent, you can then even look to the person’s official office or campaign site (or even their social media accounts) to see what issues they focus on and promote.

In addition to the policies of the person you’ll be running against, look at the number of votes they received and how much cash they raised. First, look at the number of votes they received in their last election to win the seat. You can find election results information by looking at the 2020 Election Results page on the New York State website. The site offers information on federal, state, and local elections. You’ll find out who ran, who won, and how many votes they received for all elections held that year. You’ll also find links to this same information for previous years.

Fundraising info is also basically at your fingertips. Campaign finance laws require all candidates to disclose all campaign contributions, which are in the public record. You can look up campaign finance data by candidate on the FEC site. Essentially, this information will give you an idea of what your competition raised in previous elections and what your fundraising goals should look like as you build your own campaign.

When you’re staring down at those numbers, do you feel like you might have a shot at beating the person?

How do I get on the ballot?

Now that you’ve determined which political office you want to run for, you must figure out when the next election is and what exactly you need to do to qualify for the ballot.

Here are some federal, state, and local resources to help you figure that out:

  • Ballotpedia can help you determine what federal and state offices are up for election in 2021 and 2022.
  • New York State’s election website offers a lot of resources to help when you’re interested in running for office, including a political calendar, requirements for each office, and an overview of how to file for your candidacy.
  • On New York State’s election website, you’ll also find a clickable map that will lead you to the contact information for the election board in your county. Contact the board to help fill in any gaps in your research.

Ultimately, your goal is to get the information you need from resources like those above to get yourself on the ballot as a registered candidate with the New York State Board of Elections for whatever political office you’ve decided to pursue.

How do I start my campaign?

Once you’ve registered as a candidate with the Federal, State, or Local Board of Elections, you’ll need to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN), and open a bank account so that you can start fundraising.

You’ll need a way to collect contributions. Payment processors such as ActBlue and Numero can create contribution pages for you, but you’ll also need to keep track of your donor lists, create and maintain call-time schedules, and organize your financial data to make Federal, State, or Local compliance easier. You can do all of that and more with Donor CRMs such as Numero or NGP.

It also helps to have a compliance team. Hiring consultants who specialize in campaign finance law ensures your campaign will stay compliant. The New York State Board of Election Compliance can also help ensure your campaign follows campaign finance laws.

What do I need to know about contribution limits?

The first thing to know about campaign contribution limits is that they differ depending on the race you’re running. Federal, state, and local offices will each have their own limitation rules. Further complicating things is that political contribution limits apply to each type of election, meaning donors can contribute a maximum of these amounts to primary, general, run-off, and special elections.

But don’t get discouraged! Below, we break down the contribution limits for different levels of office in New York State.

Federal limits:

FEC contribution limits are a bit more straightforward than state breakdowns. At the federal level, many more distinctions are made between what type of donor who is donating to what type of political organization, compared to the state level. These distinctions exist because, on a national level, donations can flow from individuals, from other political campaigns, and from PACs.

The FEC contribution limits are as follows:

A table of the FEC's federal contribution limits
A table of the FEC’s federal contribution limits

State and local limits

When you’re running for office in New York State, the campaign contribution limits vary depending on two factors: the office you’re running for and the area you’re running in. Amounts also vary depending on whether you’re in the primary or general election AND depending on whether the donor is a member of your family.

Here’s a quick overview of how these limits are defined at the state level in New York:

A table showing the state and local contribution limits for New York state's elected offices
A table showing the state and local contribution limits for New York state’s elected offices

This list isn’t comprehensive, so it doesn’t cover all contribution limitations—but it gives you a broad idea. For more information on all limitations, visit the New York elections website.

Also note that, in New York, “family” contributions are calculated based on the total of all family donations. The number doesn’t represent what each individual member of a candidate’s family can contribute. It represents what the candidate’s ENTIRE family can collectively donate.

The thing to remember is that all state and local election contribution limits in New York follow the formula highlighted in the chart above. The contribution limits are calculated by multiplying the number of active registered voters for your party by $0.05 (or $0.005, depending on the office) for non-family members and by $0.25 (or $0.025, depending on the office). The number of voters can be counted by state, city, or district, depending on the political office in which you’re seeking a seat.

Notably, there is a floor for the maximum contribution limit for each type of office and election, meaning people from areas with lower populations are guaranteed a certain amount of funding for their elections. For example, if you’re running for Mayor in a town with a small population, or small voter representation for your party, your maximum contribution limit would be $1,250 per individual, even if the formula used by the state yields a lower number.

Likewise,a place with higher populations will cap the contribution limits for a Mayoral candidate to $100,00 per individual, even if the formula yields a higher number. It’s confusing, make sure you consult your local Elections Board or hire a compliance firm to help you navigate the system.

The table below offers a breakdown of a couple different cities to give you an idea of what contribution limits by city look like in numbers:

A table that shows how contribution limits will look, city by city in New York

Contact the New York State Board of Elections to find out campaign contribution limit information for your specific area.

Knowing your competition and what your contribution limits in New York are will help you get started running for office. Why? Well, this information will be instrumental in helping you shape a realistic campaign budget and build a schedule for fundraising that will help you reach your goals. Good luck!


Armed with the information and resources detailed throughout this guide, you’re ready to kick off your campaign and run for political office in New York State.

To recap, here’s what you need to do:

  • Decide on the office for which you want to run for a seat.
  • Identify who you’ll be campaigning against.
  • Get yourself on the ballot.
  • Get your campaign started.
  • Following fundraising rules for contribution limits at every level.

Ready? Set? Run!

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