Alright, although this seems like a node written as a joke, it's in fact a serious source of information on how to run for office in the 2004 election. The steps?

0. Make sure you qualify. As ariels pointed out, you need to meet all relevant age limits. For most offices, it's 18. For the Senate, it's 30. For the President, it's 35. If running in a locality, you usually must live there. Many states require you to have lived there for a while, too, so be sure to investigate. Federal offices often have citizenship requirements above five years (nine years for the Senate, forever for the President.)

1. Choose your enrollment. In America, you have a few options. You can be a Republican or Democrat, in which case you will be referred to as a "party candidate" for the rest of this writeup. You can be a Green Party runner or a Libertarian, in which case you will be referred to as a "minor party candidate". You can also run under the banner of any other small party, in which case you will be referred to as an "independent candidate" -- this also applies to those running without a party, as I am.

Running as a major party candidate gives you credibility, but you have to win the primaries. Running as a minor candidate is a lot easier, but your chances, frankly, suck. America is a two-party system and has little room for the little guy. But, take your pick.

2. Get nominated. In order to be nominated for any office, you have to collect signatures. If you are running for a federal office, you have to get them in states across the country. If you are running for a state or local office, you have to get them in the appropriate consituent area. Some examples, taken from the Massachusetts Department of Elections:

  • Representative in General Court (legislature): 150 signatures
  • Senator in General Court: 250 signatures
  • Governor: 10,000 signatures
  • President: Also 10,000 signatures
If you are a party or minor party candidate, these signatures must all be obtained from voters who are registered as members of your party. If not, go nuts. Independent candidates may get signatures from any registered voter that they ask, whether Democrat, Republican, or gun-totin' Anarchist.

It is advisable to get more signatures than are required; many will probably not be certified.

3. File your nomination. Have a chat with the local/state/federal Ethics Comission, then file your now-certified nomination papers and Ethics Comission receipt with the Secretary of whatever locality you're running in. (i.e., Secretary of State, Secretary of the Commonwealth). Be sure to confirm the results so that you can deal with any setbacks.

In federal elections and most state elections (check your local laws carefully), financial reports must be filed (in federal elections, file with the Federal Elections Comission) with complete copies of your records of expenses, income, and donations during the campaign. The slightest slip-up can get you disqualified, so be extremely careful.

4. Campaign, campaign, campaign. This is the fun part. Make speeches. Hold rallies. Schedule debates. Distinguish yourself from your distinguished opponents. This section is practically another writeup in itself (and it probably will be). Just make sure that you build public awareness and convince people that you're going to make a difference.

5. Election Day. Don't forget to vote. This is the critical part of your campaign. Stand within a few hundred feet of the polling place (be careful, too close is prohibited in most states) and shake hands, smile, pose for pictures. Above all, do not seem to be begging for votes. Just establish a friendly presence and have a crowd of supporters.

Candidates who campaign too aggressively on Election Day lose. Be friendly before being assertive. Give out cookies. Bake a pie. Don't seem like a politician who's only pretending to care about people; make it seem like you actually do care about people.

6. Victory or loss. If you lose, too bad. Make a concession speech if the office you're running for is significant enough to merit it. Call your opponent with your congratulations and say nice things about them to the reporters. If you're planning to beat them next time, it's important to make sure that you look classy.

If you win, congratulations! Make your acceptance speech, no matter how stupid your office is. There will always be reporters there for the winner, if only for a few minutes. Make them count.

Afterwards, go back to the office of the Secretary and file your Certificate of Election. You are now officially a {Whatever}-Elect, with all the ranks and priviliges provided. Come the start of the next term, you will be in office. Try to show up early.

Let's get into that "campaign" thing a bit, since, as the gentleman from Massachusetts has pointed out, it merits a writeup of its own. Here's how to run a campaign for office. Do all of these simultaneously:

1. Find People To Help You

At the very least, you should have a campaign manager. If your constituency is larger than a small town, you should also have people in charge of fundraising, field work, scheduling, and research, as well as a press secretary. For major campaigns, these people should all have their own staff under them. Get a skeleton crew as you're starting out, and bring more people on board as their load increases.

You will need a lawyer. They must know election law inside and out. The worst thing in the world is to win an election and then get thrown out for voter fraud when you didn't even intend it. So find a good lawyer and consult them regularly.

2. Figure Out Who's Voting For Whom

Think about your area. Where are the conservatives? The liberals? What are the major religious groups and where do you find them? Who are the biggest employers?

Now, sit down, look at what you've got, and think about it. Will your platform captivate many of these people? Some of these groups are probably naturally disposed to vote for you. Others might take persuading. Others might try to lynch you. If you don't see too many of the first kind, then you need to expand your platform.

Here's what you're going to do next:

  • Find the people who would obviously support you, and register them to vote. Bug the hell out of them around Election Day so they don't forget to go to the polls. Don't worry about giving them too much propaganda: that's a waste of your time, since you can be fairly sure they'll vote for you anyway.
  • Find the swing votes, and start sending them literature. Get them interested in you. Visit them in their natural habitats and squeeze some flesh. Win them over.
  • Ignore the people who would rather see you dead. The only thing you can do with them is try to keep them away from the polls, which can work in some cases, but happens to be very unethical and very risky.
Know how many votes you need. The easiest way to do this is to find the population of your district, subtract the population under 18, and then multiply that by thirty percent (if it's a presidential election year) or fifteen percent (if it isn't). This will tell you how many votes will secure a winning coalition.

3. Get Your Media On

Exposure, exposure, exposure. Dealing with the media is a tricky game that's best left to a public relations professional if you can afford it.

If you want to do it yourself, then you'll need to define your message. Think about your personal history, and try to find as many comparisons with your constituents as you can. (Of course, if your resume screams Ivy League and you're running among farmers, you need to put on some overalls, get in a tractor, and have your picture taken.) If you know people within the political establishment, shake hands with them and get pictures of it.

Above all, try to be as natural as possible. You don't want to be the next Michael Dukakis looking like an idiot in a tank.

4. Send In The Infantry

There are always people willing to do grunt work for a campaign, especially if you're running for a big-name political party. Get your friends and family in, and then have them get their friends and family in, and so on. Once you've assembled a volunteer army in your front yard, you can do all sorts of fun stuff with them:

  • Canvassing, where you send people door to door with leaflets and a smile. If you have friendly people doing it, and if the neighborhood isn't obviously hostile, canvassing will do wonders for the campaign. Make sure your troops look presentable, and make sure to equip them with response forms and pens so that the neighbors can offer you money and time. (You might expect that people would get beaten or shot for canvassing, but you'd be wrong: the worst thing that ever happens is that doors get slammed in people's faces.)
  • Phone banks, where your volunteers call up everyone in the area like telemarketers. You can have them do this from a central location, or ask them to do it from their homes. Again, make sure that they are respectful and pleasant on the phone.
Volunteers can also put up signs, help stage rallies, and put together direct mailings.

If you have some well-off volunteers spread across your area, then you can make them precinct captains, each responsible for a particular neighborhood. Their job is to say nice things about you to their neighbors, and maybe invite you to lunch or coffee with some key individuals from the neighborhood. Obviously, the opportunity to be personally involved in politics attracts many voters, so this is one of the most effective ways to campaign.

If you have several volunteers with cars, get them to drive supporters to the polls on Election Day. This is especially helpful if you're targeting elderly or handicapped people, who wouldn't be able to vote without your help. It's especially effective if you can afford to rent a few vans and keep them gassed up all day.

You definitely don't need to pay your volunteers, but it's a good idea to give them lunch, drinks, and a cookout or two.

5. Dinero

Every campaign needs money. If you're financially comfortable, you might be able to wing a campaign out of pocket. Otherwise, you'll need to find some donors.

Finding donors is simpler than you might think, and it's essentially the same process as getting people to vote for you. The only real difference is that instead of saying "vote for me," you're saying "help me win." As long as you have a good platform, you'll be able to get enough fives, tens, and hundreds to get by, especially if you thank donors personally.

When dealing with money, make sure to consult your lawyer on everything you do. There are many regulations and you don't want to break any of them.

6. Don't Waste Your Mo

When you're doing well, don't slack. The cardinal rule of politics is that momentum is everything. It takes a lot of work to build momentum, and it takes a lot of work to maintain it. But it all pays off in the end, when you get to launch nuclear missiles against France.

Source: DNC campaign manuals sitting by my desk, except for the bit about France

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