Thinking about getting more involved in Berkeley? It’s never been easier to run for City Council: there are four seats open in next year’s (November 2020) election, plus the mayor’s seat, and extremely generous public campaign financing is available.

In this post, I explain the details of running, and why public financing makes it easier than ever.

Am I eligible to run for City Council this year?

There are four City Council seats up for election in November 2020 – Districts 2, 3, 5 and 6. If you live in one of these districts (see map below or type in your address), you can run! The mayor’s seat is also up for election, and that’s a city-wide race.

Council District Map.png
Click to enlarge (PDF)

Will the city give me money to fund my campaign?

Yes!  For every Berkeley resident who gives your campaign $50, the city will give you another $300, up to a maximum match of $43,000! (assuming you follow certain rules and do the correct paperwork).

In 2016, Berkeley passed public financing measure X1, which enables candidates who forego special-interest money and contributions over $50 to get a six-to-one funds match from the city. Before that, the only way to compete was by getting large donations in chunks of $250… which was hard, and gave the wealthiest Berkeley residents way too much influence.

But now, you can raise a campaign fund of about $50,000 (a very competitive amount) by getting 144 people to give you $50 each (or 288 people to give you $25 each). $50,000 will pay for a lot of signs, mailings, and other advertising… everything you need to support your campaign.

What are my chances, running for the first time?

Berkeley is small enough that you can meet many voters personally, if you work hard at it. If you can inspire people and convince them you’ll do the best job representing them, you have a shot.

There are about 14,000 residents per council district, and City Council races are often decided by just a few hundred votes.

So you don’t need a long political history… just get out there and meet people, go door to door, participate in the community, get people to host neighborhood coffees for you, etc. Public financing levels the playing field greatly… you can spend more of your time with voters, and on the issues, not fundraising.

How does ‘ranked-choice’ voting work?

Berkeley uses ‘ranked choice voting‘ for the Council races, so in a three (or more) way race where the top vote-getter doesn’t get over 50% of the votes, the results are re-tabulated to take into account some voters’ second choices as well. So you can potentially win by getting the most first and second-choice votes combined, even if someone else got more first choice votes (this actually happened in the last election).

How do I get on the ballot?

First you visit the City Clerk’s office… they’ll give you everything you need, including a petition form to gather the minimum required twenty nomination signatures from residents of your district. You’ll also have to pay a $150 filing fee, although this can be reduced by presenting additional signatures.

When’s the deadline to decide to run?

The official filing deadlines aren’t until summer, but if you’re going to succeed, you’ll need to start your campaign sooner.

Can I get access to voter information?

Yes. The Alameda County Registrar of Voters sells voter files to campaigns for $200: The voter file includes all information voters submit when they register to vote (name, address, mailing address, gender, birth date, party, date of registration, email, etc), along with their voting history (which elections they voted in, and whether it was absentee or in-person).

What else do I need to know?

The Berkeley City Clerk has detailed election information online. Berkeleyside has coverage of current and prior elections.

Berkeley has its own campaign finance and reporting laws you must comply with, called BERA, and you can find information on that here.

The main thing is, just get out and talk to people. Ask a lot of questions, have a lot of coffees. You’ll learn everything you need to know quickly.

Note: I’ve assembled this information to encourage more people to run – it would be great if there were a strong, diverse field of candidates for this upcoming election.

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