How to Run for Local Office

Competitive primary elections are essential for a healthy democracy, especially locally, where Democratic candidates are usually uncontested in general elections. This page provides basic information about running for local office that is sometimes hard to find.

The Basic Legal Requirements

  1. A candidate petition signed by 50 registered Princeton Democrats must be filed with the town clerk at the municipal building, 400 Witherspoon Street, by a deadline that in 2024 was March 25. Signers can only sign the number of petitions equal to open positions.
  2. Financial forms must be filed with the NJ Division of Elections, which require you to name a treasurer. This step needs to be completed before spending any money.

Campaigning

In Princeton, there are two Democratic organizations, described below. Both hold endorsement votes that can be impactful. If you are considering running, it is helpful to begin preparing for these endorsement votes. While they are not the be-all and end-all for candidates, they carry weight with Princeton voters.

Princeton Democratic Municipal Committee (PDMC)

The organization that can determine ballot position as well as who gets the official party slogan is PDMC, which is part of the official Democratic Party structure. The committee’s website is informative and helpful.

The PDMC consists of two representatives from each of our 22 voting districts. Its endorsement vote is important because the Mercer County Democratic Chair, who by law determines the order and placement of candidates on the Princeton election ballot, usually defers to the Committee’s vote and places names according to the vote.

Princeton Community Democratic Organization (PCDO)

The larger organization is the PCDO, a Democratic club consisting of 200 – 400 members, which also holds an endorsement vote. Membership is required to be eligible for an endorsement. Membership is open to any registered Democrat; voting privileges for Mayor and Council are limited to Princeton residents. There are no required dues. To be eligible to vote, members must have joined two weeks prior to the endorsement meeting.

Candidates often recruit supporters to join the PCDO if they are not already members. The PCDO will supply a set of mailing labels and will send out two candidate emails to its members prior to the endorsement vote, as well as notices for campaign events.

Voter Lists

Voter lists are important for identifying Democratic voters and contacting them by mail or by door-knocking. Lists are available for a small fee from the Mercer County Clerk or from the NJ State Division of Elections. You can also purchase lists that are more user-friendly from commercial suppliers.

Primary Voter Eligibility

New Jersey has closed Primaries, meaning voters must select a party and they will receive the appropriate ballot – either Democrat or Republican.  The most common way to affiliate with a party is to vote in a primary, where you declare your party at the polls. You are henceforth registered with that party. Everyone should check their voter registration. If you believe you are Unaffiliated, but you voted in the most recent Primary election, your registration was changed to become a member of the party for which you voted.

Also note that NJ does not recognize “Independent” as a party, so no one is registered as “independent.”