WASHINGTON, D.C. — “No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.”
This is article one, section two, clause two of the United States Constitution, regarding who may run for the U.S. House of Representatives. The House of Representatives is modeled after the British House of Commons, and the founding fathers of the U.S. wanted it to be the government institution closest to the people.
That’s why the U.S. Constitution specifically outlines very few eligibility requirements to run for the House of Representatives: one must be at least 25 years old, a citizen of the U.S. for at least seven years, and you must actually reside in the state which you wish to represent.
However, while a representative must reside in his or her respective state, they don’t necessarily have to live in the congressional district they are representing. Once elected, a representative must take an oath vowing to uphold the Constitution.
There have been a select few historical exceptions when it comes to representatives who do not meet these eligibility requirements. In 1797, William Claiborne, age 22, was elected to serve in the House of Representatives, and John Young Brown was elected at the age of 24 in 1859. Brown, unlike Claiborne, was not allowed to take his seat until he reached the constitutionally legitimate age of 25.
The reason there have been exceptions is that article one, section five of the Constitution gives ultimate power to those already serving in the House of Representatives to decide who may serve.
In order to appear on a ballot, a candidate for the House of Representatives must meet certain criteria and deadlines established by state, rather than federal, laws. These are known as ballot access laws.
Each state has different deadlines for filing to appear on the ballot. Also, someone wanting to run for the House of Representatives often must collect signatures on a petition, or pay a registration fee to appear on the ballot in their respective state. Sometimes, states have different rules for candidates who are members of a recognized political party. Some states will also categorize political parties as “major” or “minor” parties, and will have different rules and requirements for candidates of each.
In Massachusetts for example, all candidates must collect 2,000 signatures in order to run for the House of Representatives. This petition is known as the candidate’s nomination papers, and the process is roughly the same for party and non-party members, except that the deadline dates are different, and that party members must submit proof they are a member of their respective political party, while independent candidates may write in a political designation of no more than three words.
Finally, anyone who wishes to run for the House of Representatives must comply with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in order to receive political donations. The FEC is the only agency with the authority to regulate and review campaign financing.
All candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives must register with the FEC once they spend or receive more than $5,000 for their campaign. Candidates must file a Statement of Candidacy within 15 days of reaching the $5,000 mark, which will authorize a principal campaign committee to receive and spend money on the campaign.
Once done filing the Statement of Candidacy, a candidate has 10 days to submit to the F.E.C. a Statement of Organization. Once these documents are submitted, a candidate is expected to report their expenditures and donations quarterly. Anyone who wants to run for the House of Representatives must also disclose their personal finances, and the House Committee on Ethics handles this process.
To run for the House of Representatives, a person must meet the constitutional eligibility requirements, and to get on the state ballot, a person must meet the standards of their state’s ballot access laws. To finance a campaign, the candidate must disclose all personal finances with the House Committee on Ethics, and report their campaign expenditures to the FEC.
In general, states also allow write-in candidates to run for certain political offices, but they may only participate in general elections, and, once again, rules are set at the state level.
– David Mclellan