2020, and the start of 2021, has been rough on Texas. The state has seen nearly 3 million cases of COVID-19, severe weather, and failures in infrastructure that left many of the most vulnerable Texans literally in the cold. Not to mention, the Texas Standard reports that unemployment is up, families are struggling, and bills being pushed through the state government would chip away at voters’ rights, trans rights, and women’s rights.
It’s enough to make you want to run for office.
Even when you’ve got fire in your belly, though, actually getting started can be highly daunting for new candidates. No doubt you have questions about where and how to run. What offices can you run for? How do you get on the ballot? How do you start fundraising?
Don’t let these questions lead to overwhelm. Let us help! We’ve put together a handy guide on how to run for office in Texas. Below, we’ll walk you through the early research you need to do and give you tons of resources to help you along the way.
Intuitively, you might think the first step in running for office is fundraising, but many things need to happen before you can start collecting contributions. The real first step is researching how the government works in Texas. To get started, you’ll need to learn as much as you can about these key factors:
- The voters
- When the next elections are
- What offices are up for election
- Who’s already in the office you’re running for and if they’re running again
- How to establish your political campaign
- What contribution limits apply to your campaign
With this information on hand, you’ll know what kind of budget you’ll need to run a competitive campaign and how to stay in compliance with campaign finance laws.
Sounds like a lot, but we’ve got you covered. Let’s start at the beginning.
As of January 2021, the state of Texas has 16.6 million registered voters statewide. Of these, just under 6% are considered suspense voters.
Suspense voters are voters who’ve moved but haven’t updated their registration to reflect their new address. Voters with this status can vote but in slightly restricted ways, depending on how far they’ve moved from the district in which they were previously registered. There are 918,000 suspense voters in Texas as of January 2021. That may sound like a lot, but it’s actually an improvement compared to prior years.
The Texas Secretary of State website has a page that breaks down the voter population based on county, registered voters, suspense voters, and non-suspense voters. If you’re curious, the site also lets you check out historical voting registration figures that go back to 1991.
You can’t, however, see how voters are registered along party lines or party affiliation demographics for voters on the Secretary of State website. Still, take note that Texas is a strong Republican state. As of April 2021, Greg Abbott (R) is the Governor of Texas, and Republicans hold the majority in the state legislature.
Voting in the 2020 elections favored Republicans, though the DailyKOS reports that Republicans lost some ground in suburbs during that election cycle. However, Democrats fell short of expectations across the state and only took 14 of 36 Districts.
In 2021, these demographics are likely to shift because of the 2020 census. Texas already has a decades-long history of gerrymandering that favors GOP candidates, and the state could gain up to 3 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives when Texas redraws its districts. These additional seats could help Republicans reclaim the House majority in the 2022 election.
But don’t be discouraged! The best way to ensure that Democrats get representation in the Texas government is to prepare yourself well and run for office. Knowing the political climate you face is the first step. Next, you’ll need to ask yourself which office you want to run for.
To narrow down the right political office to target, you not only need to gather information about the local, state, and federal governments but you must also know your strengths. You want to identify the office that allows you to best play to those strengths.
For example, if you grew up in rural Texas and want to help with promoting sustainable economic growth in farming communities, you could run for the Commissioner of Agriculture.
Running for local, state, or federal office will impact the scale and scope of the issues you influence.
At the local level, you can run for municipal and district positions. District positions include things like school, water, and hospital districts. The Texas SoS website has resources to help you learn more if you’re running for a local office.
State-level political offices include Governor/Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Comptroller, and Commissioner positions, such as Land, Agriculture, and Railroad Commissioner. The Texas SoS site has a list of all statewide elected officials to help you learn more.
You could also run for political offices at the federal level—U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, and even President of the United States.
Ballotpedia can tell you what elections will happen in Texas in 2021 and 2022 as well. There, you can find additional information, too, about filing deadlines, voting, and what measures will be on local ballots.
Once you’ve identified what political office to run for, you’ll now need to find out who you’ll be running against in your campaign. Several factors will determine how competitive your race will be. As one example, your competition will change depending on whether you’re in the primary or general phases of the election cycle.
Especially if you’re digging into local offices, it can be a little tricky to identify the elected officials in your state. Here are a couple resources that might help:
- The Texas Democrats website includes a list of elected officials. This list will help you prepare for primaries where you might have competition from within the party. It can be very useful to connect with the state party as they can run coordinated campaigns that could help you maximize the performance of your campaign.
- The Texas Republican party’s website has a list of incumbent Republicans. This information can help you gauge the competition outside the Democratic party as well.
- You can also find a list of Election Officials and Officeholders on the Texas SoS website.
These websites can help you determine who represents Texas in federal, state, and local government. Once you know who currently holds the office you want to run for, look into their campaign finance disclosures. Every candidate is required to disclose their campaign finances, usually quarterly.
Knowing this information also helps you assess what your campaign budget should be. You can search campaign finance reports for political campaigns in Texas on the Texas SOS website. Looking for a broader look? The FEC has a database that lets you search individual contributions for any candidate nationwide.
You’ve gathered all the information about the office you’d like to run for, the person/people you’ll be running against, and the financial reality of running a campaign to hold that office. Now you’re ready for the next step: getting on the ballot!
First, you’ll need to register your political campaign with the state of Texas, which allows you to start a political committee. This committee designates you as an entity that can and will be collecting political contributions. You’ll need to complete this step before applying to be on the ballot.
In Texas, you can run for office as a Democrat, Republican, Independent, or write-in candidate. To run as a member of a state party, you’ll need to submit an application with the party chair and pay a filing fee. You can also file a petition in place of the filing fee for a major party. A petition is required to run as an Independent as well.
The Texas Secretary of State website offers tons of resources to help you get on the ballot. There’s a page that breaks down the qualifications for all public offices. Need help navigating the application process? Consult the state’s election code and an index of election forms for guidance.
Ballotpedia also has a detailed breakdown of ballot access requirements for political offices in Texas at the state (Texas State House and Senate seats) and federal levels (U.S. House and Senate seats).
Filing for candidacy is different for local offices (cities, water districts, school districts, etc.). For example, as a general rule, candidates can only apply for local ballots as Independents unless the city charter for your area makes an exception to this rule.
Remember, the first step to setting up your campaign is registering to form a political committee. This committee shows banks and vendors that you’re a credible organization and prepares you to receive contributions.
Once your political committee is formed, here are the final steps before you can start fundraising:
- Get an Employment Identification Number (EIN) through the IRS. Simply fill out this online form, which includes step-by-step instructions to guide you.
- Establish a campaign bank account. You can get a political campaign account through a national or state level bank, or through any FDIC- or NCUA-insured bank. All political contributions should be kept separate from personal finances.
- Organize your fundraising process by using a payment processing platform such as Numero or ActBlue.
- Find a compliance team. As a political candidate, your campaign must follow all campaign finance laws, including proper disclosures of all campaign finances at appropriate times. Having a finance director or hiring a compliance consultant are the best ways to keep your campaign compliant throughout the election. Compliance teams can also help you with earlier steps (e.g., registering your campaign, setting up a bank account).
- Find a donor management system to organize how you communicate with political donors. Our Numero CallTime app is very helpful with this. Other companies, such as NPG, can also help you manage your fundraising efforts.
The final step before fundraising is identifying the contribution limits for the office that you’re running for. These limits will vary depending on whether you’re running for local, state, or federal office.
Texas state law doesn’t set contribution limits for most state and local offices. The exception is with the judicial branch of state and local government. Judicial contribution limits are determined by the type of office and the population in the district in which the judicial candidate is running.
The FEC does set contribution limits for candidates running for federal offices. If you’re running for President of the United States, the U.S. Senate, or the U.S. House of Representatives, these limits will apply to you.
Keep in mind that federal contribution limits for candidates are applied to each election individually. In other words, the limits renew for primary, general, special, and run-off elections.
Congratulations! You’re now ready to begin fundraising for your political campaign in Texas. Have more questions? Don’t worry, it’s natural to have a ton of questions as you navigate running for office.
Luckily, we can help! Check out our Guide on How to Run for Office and Win for even more information and resources on how you can run a successful political campaign. We’re here to empower candidates just like you to successfully run for office at all levels of the political scene. Good luck!