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Want to run for office in OC? Filing period opens July 18

Those interested in running for a local city council, school board or water district seat in November, now is a good time to start thinking about what you’ll need to do to get on the ballot.

The filing period to run for local office in Orange County – a first step in mounting a campaign – opens on Monday, July 18, and will run through Aug. 12.

Along with filling out a few forms and collecting signatures to qualify for the ballot, prospective candidates need to decide whether they want to purchase space for a candidate’s statement in the sample ballots sent out to all voters to say in 400 words or less what they’re all about. Depending on the length and the seat, those statements can cost up to $3,000, but many are between $500 and $1,500.

To qualify for the position they want, candidates must meet certain criteria, which in most cases includes being a resident of the area in which they are running, at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen.

Those running for a city council seat need to gather at least 20 signatures of registered voters, but no more than 30, on their nomination paper. A document reporting economic interests, such as income and investments, must also be filed.

City clerks handle filings for council seats, while the Orange County Registrar of Voters administers local school board, water board and other special district elections.

Those mounting a campaign must also keep track of contributions and spending, and open a bank account if they plan to bring in, or spend, more than $2,000. And they’ll have to keep track of the deadlines for reporting money raised and spent campaigning.

Election Day is Nov. 8, and several more local races this year will be held for the first time by-district, where voters select a candidate to represent a geographic district in which they live.

In cities, school districts and special districts up and down the state, the once-common at-large voting method – in which voters elect a slate of candidates to represent the entire city or governing panel – has been challenged in recent years by groups who say the system can dilute the voice of minority residents.

Switching to district-based elections has become a common response, and many more voters, including in Mission Viejo and Tustin council elections, will test out the new system in November.

A judge recently issued a tentative decision that two Mission Viejo council seats scheduled for 2024 would need to appear in November, putting all five seats on the ballot.

The city was sued earlier this year by a resident who argued the seats’ terms were being extended without a public vote – the council had set them as two-year terms when the city was expecting to transition to a different voting style, cumulative voting, but when that was blocked by the state, the council reverted to by-district elections and the original four-year term length. The judge will hear the city out on its reasoning in September, but said for now the city needs to plan for those to be on the November ballot because the filing period is starting now.

In Tustin, voters will directly elect a mayor for the first time, as well as start the transition to by-district elections.

In addition to city council races, trustees from a number of local school districts across Orange County will be chosen in November, as well as representatives of some special districts, who serve on water, sanitary or community services boards.

Special districts and school districts moving to by-district elections for the first time this year include Santa Ana Unified School District, Savanna School District, South Coast Water District and Buena Park Library District, according to the county Registrar of Voters.

In a time of heightened political tensions nationwide, it’s possible that more people become galvanized to run for local offices, Fred Smoller, a professor of political science at Chapman University, said.

Called “disturbance theory,” there’s an idea in political science that when people sense a disruption in the political system, they “get propelled to take political action, including running for office,” he said.

A number of recent events could constitute a disturbance that might spark people to action, including the Supreme Court’s decision last month to overturn federal abortion protections, current gas prices, inflation or housing prices, Smoller said.

“All these things, one way or another, can motivate some people to run for office,” he said.

And the competitive nature of elections in Orange County, which has become more politically purple than solidly Republican in recent years, opens the possibility for more people from different political backgrounds to mount a successful campaign, he added.

“More people are gonna say, ‘Gee, I have a shot at this.’”

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