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TN History for Kids

Middle Eight: Let's run!

A middle school band from Nashville visits
Congressman Jim Cooper
PHOTO: Office of Congressman Jim Cooper

Let's say you're thinking about running for public office. What do you need to do?

Let's take the Tennessee State House of Representatives. If you are 21 or older, and are registered to vote, you too may run for a seat in the state house.

The first step is to qualify

That's a pretty simple process, but you must go to your county's election commission office and fill out an application. The application requires the signatures and addresses of 25 voters in the district in which you are running. So you're going to need 25 friends to sign that application right off the bat. (If you can't find 25 people to sign your application, there's no point in running, because if you can't get 25 people to stand up for you, you'll never get enough people to vote for you.)

The next thing you need to do is start campaigning

Go door to door and shake hands with everyone you meet. Look people in the eye. Tell everyone who you are, what you're running for, and what you will do if elected. And don't forget to ask for everyone's vote.

Money in campaigns

So you've qualified to run, and you are out there going door to door shaking hands and asking for the vote of your fellow citizens. Is that all you need to do?

Campaign signs aren't free

There was a time, maybe 100 years ago, when that really was all you had to do. But these days, you probably need to do more. These days you generally need things like yard signs, campaign brochures, and even television and radio commercials to have a good chance to win an election. These things take money.

How much? Let's talk about the Tennessee House of Representatives, for example. In recent years the winner in most contested House races (races in which there was more than one legitimate candidate) usually spent more than $50,000 in the campaign. Some winners have been known to spend less than that, but some have spent a lot more.

Tennessee Senate races generally cost more than Tennessee House races because the districts are bigger. U.S. Congressional races cost more than that, and a U.S. Senate race costs even more than that.

By the way Americans, and Tennesseans, have always been concerned about the role money plays in elections. Because of this there are limits as to how much a person, or a company, can give to a particular campaign, and all campaign donations over $100 must be reported to a state government office called the Registry of Election Finance. If you go to the registry's web site, you can see information about how much money people have raised and spent in previous elections.

Click here to take a test over all you've learned in Intermediate Civics.