It did not take long after the recent general election for several political candidates to announce they’re running for state and federal offices in 2024. More are expected to announce in the next few weeks.
But, are they officially on the ballot? Government Reporter Randy Yohe talked with state Election Director Deak Kersey from Secretary of State Mac Warner’s office on how declaring yourself a political candidate really works.
Yohe: It seems like right after the recent elections, we have many announcements for state and federal offices in West Virginia for 2024. Is this unusual or usual?
Kersey: From my experience here in the office, you do hear a lot of chatter heading into a presidential election year. This does seem earlier than usual. That may be due to the unique circumstances in the Republican primaries, where there are several contenders for statewide offices.
Yohe: We’ve heard people saying that they’ve announced for governor or they have announced to run for the U.S. House or Senate. Have they officially filed? How does that all work?
Kersey: When someone declares for office publicly, what that typically means is, if you’re not in the election year especially, that they have filed a pre-candidacy report. What that does is permits candidates to raise money towards their campaign. It places bookends on when candidates can begin and end raising money. You can’t raise money for a campaign that’s going to start after the next general election if that particular office is on this ballot.
For example, Randy couldn’t run for governor in 2028, you can only run for the next race that governor is going to be on if you want to start raising money towards it right now. When someone says they’ve declared for a particular race, what that typically means is they have filed a pre-candidacy form with our office. It can be found on our campaign finance reporting website. Then they can start accepting money, they can create a committee, they can appoint a treasurer, spend money, do all the things that a normal candidate would do. They’re not officially a candidate yet, they are simply a pre-candidate.
When the election year comes, that will be 2024 for the statewide offices you’re talking about, there is a particular form called certificate of announcement that all candidates have to file within a particular period in January. Once that certificate of announcements form is filed, they are officially a candidate and then they will be placed on the ballot as long as they meet all the other qualifications.
Yohe: That’s January 2024 right? So, they can skate through 2023 without being an officially announced candidate, as long as they filed pre-candidacy and deal with fundraising and such?
Kersey: Yes, the purpose of having a pre-candidate form and becoming a pre-candidate is so you can lawfully accept donations from the public to put towards your campaign. That’s the only legal mechanism that the pre-candidacy form is used for. So people can say they’ve declared, or that they are going to run for governor or for senate or for house or whatever it may be. If they don’t file that pre-candidacy, they can’t raise money and spend money for their campaign. Once they file that pre-candidacy, it creates a committee for the candidate. However, come January 2024, if they want to be an official candidate, they must file a certificate of announcement.
Yohe: What are the requirements for that candidate to report their fundraising?
Kersey: The same requirements as you have during an election year. The legislature changed the law in 2019 to no longer allow for off-election years to simply file annual reports. Candidates now file on a quarterly basis. You will see four reports in 2023 from all candidates that have filed, and you’ll see six reports in 2024. They’re the same quarterly reports, plus a report due just before each election and that continues in perpetuity. These candidate committees live on in perpetuity until the account has been drawn down to zero, all the loans are paid off and all the bills are paid. At that point the committee has to close its shop. Usually, what we’ll see is a candidate will roll that money over into a subsequent campaign if they’re gonna run again in the next election cycle.
Randy: How does the public take a look at all this? You were talking about the campaign finance website, tell me how I navigate to that.
Kersey: There are several different ways you can do it. The first way is to go to our website, sos.wv.gov. On the top of the homepage, there’s an elections tab. You go to the elections tab, and you simply click the online campaign finance reporting system and that takes you to the website, or you can go directly to the campaign finance website yourself.
Randy: Do you have a list of who has filed for pre-candidacy?
Kersey: Yes, and I can tell you how to get to it yourself as well. On the campaign finance homepage, the top left of the page, there’s this little hamburger thing next to the state seal. That’s a menu, and you click that and then you click explore, and in the very first category there are pre-candidates. You click pre-candidates, you select the election year, 2024, And it creates you a list of candidates.
Yohe: The phrase we’ve been using is “they’re coming out of the woodwork.” Is there anything that we need to know to keep our head straight on candidacy?
Kersey: If someone says they’ve declared that they’re running for office you can come check the website and see if they’re allowed to raise money and spend money. If they have filed a pre-candidacy, then they’ll be reporting their campaign finances on the website. It’s required by law for all statewide offices and all legislative offices.