Running For Office: Key Dates For Candidates

By Sam Dryzmala

This guide is intended to help first-time candidates run for office — it outlines key deadlines that you’ll want to keep in mind as you run. These deadlines will be different depending on where you’re running, and some of them might not apply based on the office you’re running for.

We’ll include links to where you can find the deadlines relevant to you, and a sample worksheet for you to fill in with those dates.

Primary Election Date: This is your first and most important date — the date that our party picks its standard-bearer for the election. You only get to worry about the general election if you’re the winner of the primary.

If you’re running for a local office, or a state office that’s designated “nonpartisan,” this might not apply to you.

If you’re running in the state of California, you’ll have a primary but the primary is nonpartisan — the top-two votegetters go on to the general election, regardless of party.

You can look up the date of your primary election by visiting Ballotpedia, or by googling “secretary of state” and your state’s name.

General Election Date: If you win the primary, you get to compete in the general election — the election which will decide the next occupant of the office you’re running for. So yeah, this one is important.

You can look up the date of your general election by visiting Ballotpedia, or by googling “secretary of state” and your state’s name.

Voter registration deadlines: Voter registration is open year-round, but in many states registration closes a few weeks before an election is held — both primary and general. Often there are different deadlines for registration online, by mail, and in-person. If registering new voters is a big part of your campaign strategy, you need to build this deadline into your plans.

You can look up the date of your voter registration deadlines by visiting You can also take a look at this spreadsheet of all the deadlines from 2016:

Early vote deadlines: Many states now hold periods of voting before the final “Election Day.” For campaigns making a serious investment in field organizing, early voting is a vital part of a winning strategy.

You can look up the voting dates in your state by visiting Ballotpedia, or by googling “secretary of state” and your state’s name.

Fundraising deadlines: If you’re running for federal office (US House and Senate), you’ll need to report donations to the FEC, which will publish the data publicly. Organizations which could support your candidacy watch those fundraising reports closely to gauge your viability as a candidate. So will the press writing about your campaign — and your opponents. FEC reporting periods end every quarter, with some additional deadlines added as Election Day approaches.

If you’re running for state and local office, don’t worry about this.

You can look up federal reporting deadlines on the FEC website.

How these deadlines fit into your plans

The best way to plan around these deadlines is to work backwards — figure out how your campaign needs to perform on the day of the deadline and which metrics you’ll use to track your performance, and work your way back one week, two weeks, a month, a year…all the way to today. That way you’ll know what you need to be doing today in order to meet your goals in the future and win your election.

From a psychological perspective, deadlines can also be useful to keep your staff and supporters motivated. For example: the week before an end-of-quarter FEC fundraising deadline is nearly always the best fundraising week of the quarter because the urgency of the deadline will draw in more donors.

For more information on filing for office, visit our candidate filing resource:

For more information on the team you’ll have to build and their roles in your organization, visit our guide on how to assemble your campaign team:

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