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How to Run for Office Details

A Beginner's Guide to Being a Candidate for Public Office in the City of San Diego

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What can I run for?

There are three kinds of elective office in the City of San Diego:

  • Mayor
  • City Attorney
  • City Council Member

Each of these offices is non-partisan.

The Mayor and City Attorney are elected City-wide. Every voter registered in the City may vote to fill these offices.

Each of the nine Council members is elected by district only. In other words, only voters registered in the district with the open Council seat may vote to fill that seat.

Officeholders are elected to a four-year term. There is a term limit of two terms in the City. This means you cannot serve more than two consecutive four-year terms as a Councilmember from any particular district, or as Mayor, or as City Attorney. But if you are eligible, you can run for another City office after reaching your term limit, or run again for the same office after someone else has served.

Am I eligible?

To run for office, you must be a U. S. citizen, and at least 18 years old. Also, you must be a registered voter of the district you want to serve for at least 30 days prior to the date you file your nomination papers and a resident and registered voter of that district at the time of assuming the office. Running for City-wide office? You may be a resident and registered voter anywhere in the City. Running for a Council seat? You must reside in and be a registered voter of that district.

When can I run?

Although the City holds candidate elections every two years, any given seat is usually only up for election once every four years. (If a seat is vacated before the term is up, then either Council will fill the vacancy, or a special election will be held.)

Our elections are designed so that Council terms overlap. Regular terms last four years. Elections to fill the even-numbered district seats (Council District 2, 4, 6 and 8) are scheduled for 2018, 2022 and 2026. Elections for the odd-numbered district seats (Council Districts 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9) are scheduled for 2016, 2020 and 2024. The office of the Mayor and City Attorney are filled at the same time as the odd-numbered district seats.

Candidates are required to "take out" (pick up) nomination papers from the City Clerk's Office. These papers are available for a limited time, the "nomination period"--between 118 and 89 days before a regular election--and must be returned to the City Clerk's Office before the end of that period.

Future Filing Periods for Nomination Papers

City elections are consolidated with the statewide Primary and General Elections.

Candidates are nominated in the Municipal Primary Election. The two candidates who receive the highest number of votes in the Primary run against one another in the General.

Winners take office at 10:00 a.m. on December 10, unless that date falls on a weekend or holiday. If December 10 falls on a weekend or holiday, then the term begins at 10:00 a.m. on the next calendar day that is not a weekend or holiday.

How do I run?

  1. Appear in person at the City Clerk's Office during the nomination period to take out your nomination papers. Please plan to attend a scheduled candidate orientation so we can go through the papers with you and help you understand what is required of you. The process takes about an hour; it's well worth your time!
  2. Circulate your nominating petition. If you're a Council candidate, you must gather the signatures of at least 100 people qualified as voters in the district you wish to represent. If you're running for Mayor or City Attorney, you must gather the signatures of at least 200 people qualified as voters in the City. (A qualified voter is someone who has been registered at least 30 days prior to signing your petition.)
  3. Get your filing fee ready, and consider collecting signatures in lieu of the filing fee. The filing fee for Council candidates is $200, but you can offset that entirely by obtaining the signatures of 800 qualified voters (in addition to the 100 you need for your nomination). The filing fee for candidates for Mayor or City Attorney is $500, which can be offset by an additional 2,000 signatures. Each valid "signature in-lieu" is worth $0.25 off the filing fee.
  4. Complete and file your nomination papers (including "signatures in-lieu") and your filing fee, all at one time, with the City Clerk's Office, by the end of the nomination period.
  5. File campaign disclosure statements as necessary. Candidates, officeholders and committees supporting or opposing candidates are required to file statements disclosing contributions received and expenditures made. Read more about these in the Candidate Information Manual (available from the City Clerk's Office during your orientation), among other places.
  6. Campaign!

WARNING! CONTRIBUTION LIMITS APPLY! Check state and local law BEFORE you begin raising funds!

What are Nomination Papers?

To run for office, you will be required to complete and file a number of forms and statements. The forms are available in the City Clerk 's Office, and will be given to you at your scheduled candidate orientation. These become public records, available for anyone to view.

This document requires you to provide your name, the office you are running for, your birth date, birth place, occupation, and your street address for the past four years. It is filed when you take out your nomination papers.

Described above in "How Do I Run?" If you don't have enough valid signatures on your nominating petition, you will not qualify to have your name placed on the ballot.

You may choose up to four words for use on the ballot to describe your principal profession, vocation or occupation. Strict rules apply! Certain types of language are prohibited from these documents, as described in PDF icon San Diego Municipal Code Sections 27.0602-27.0605 and 27.0621 and the PDF icon City Clerk Administrative Guidelines. Also, there are standards for counting words--it's not as simple as it sounds!

You must disclose all your economic interests, on the Fair Political Practices Commission form (Form 700) provided for this purpose.

You may use up to 200 words to give your name, age, occupation and education, and a brief description of your qualifications. This statement is printed in the sample ballot which goes to every qualified voter. You may also include a "head-shot" black-and-white photograph of yourself. This opportunity is provided to all candidates, free of additional charge. Strict rules apply! Certain types of language are prohibited from these documents, as described in PDF icon San Diego Municipal Code Sections 27.0602-27.0605 and 27.0621 . Also, there are guidelines for counting words--it's not as simple as it sounds!

Can I be a write-in candidate?

Yes, for the Primary Election only. Nomination papers may be obtained from the City Clerk's Office no earlier than the first business day after the close of regular nominations for the Primary Election; and must be filed with the City Clerk no later than 14 days prior to the election. See PDF icon San Diego Municipal Code Sections 27.0301-27.0324 for details.

What else should I know?

This is a very basic guide only. You should become familiar with all the applicable provisions of the City Charter, the Municipal Election Code, and the Political Reform Act of 1974 as amended. Failure to comply with requirements of the nomination process, campaign rules and campaign disclosure reporting may jeopardize an otherwise successful campaign effort.

It is very likely that you will have to file a Candidate Intention Statement and bank account information with the Secretary of State and the City Clerk.

The mechanics of campaigning and campaign strategy are matters for the candidates and their staffs. It wouldn't be appropriate for the City Clerk 's Office to become involved in these facets of election activities. We will try our best, however, to answer questions which are in our purview.

Matters such as campaign headquarters locations and the posting of campaign signs are controlled by the City's Zoning Ordinance. The City Clerk 's Office is not empowered to provide interpretations on these matters.