Running for president is both much easier and much more complicated than you might think. Since you are busy making buttons and practicing your stump speech or whatever, we've broken it down into four easy steps.
1. Fill out a form with the government.
This is the part that is easier than you might expect. To become a candidate for the presidency, simply fill out this form. That's it.
Filling out Form 2 gets you included on the exotic FEC list "Presidential Form 2 Filers," which is a compendium of people that plan to run for president, plus some other people with varying motivations. (We wrote about this list and those people in December.) Need further proof that this step is important? Here's the Form 2 filed by a guy named "Barack Obama" in 2007.
Now, technically, you don't need to file this form unless you have spent or received more than $5,000 in service of your presidential bid. (We covered this last month.) If you don't spend that money, we'll note, it's not really very likely that you're going to be elected president. Not because of expensive TV spots or even those buttons you were just making -- but because it will be very hard for anyone to actually vote for you. Which bring us to....
2. Get on the ballot in states.
Let's say you want to go big. You think that the Democratic presidential field is wide open, since no one has expressed an interest in running and because you suffer from a rare illness wherein hearing or reading the word "Clinton" causes you to black out for 15 seconds. If you plan to contest the Democratic (or Republican) nomination then, you need to be on the primary ballot in enough states to get the delegates you need at the convention.
That's harder than it sounds. In many states, ballot access is granted after turning in petitions from registered members of the party. Here, for example, are California's guidelines used in 2012. (A representative of the secretary of state in California told the Post by phone that the process would likely be the same in 2016.) There are two ways onto the ballot: A petition drive or after being placed on the ballot by California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
That latter option is less likely. In 2012, California looked at federal matching fund eligibility, at being listed in polls, and at being on other states' ballots as reasons to include a candidate on the primary ballot. Good luck with this!
So unless you're friends with California party muckety-mucks, you'll need petitions. In 2012, candidates needed either one percent or 500 signatures (whichever was lower) from Democrats in each of the state's 50-plus congressional districts. They had two months to do so -- which, particularly if you're hoping to keep expenses under $5,000, is a time crunch.
Other states work similarly; some don't. A representative from the state of New York's Board of Elections said that he couldn't say how to get on the ballot because it's a function of legislation passed by the State Assembly and Senate. The 2012 guidelines aren't online, because they only applied to that specific election. In other words, you as a conscientious candidate will want to bookmark the NY BOE homepage.
In caucus states, it's a little different. We asked Iowa Republican party spokesman Charlie Szold by telephone what a candidate in that state would need to do to be considered during the caucus. "It's a very easy answer," he replied: "Absolutely nothing." In Iowa, the caucuses -- held in hundreds of small, local venues across the state -- are wide open. "It's strictly a question of name ID and persuasion," Szold said. If you can convince enough people to show up at their caucuses and cast a (secret, paper) ballot for you, you can win the state. Simple enough, except for the logistics.
Technically, you can do something similar in California. It allows write-in candidacies for party nominations. If you can corral most of Iowa to back you, it shouldn't be much harder to get tens of thousands of Californians to be willing to write your name in on their ballots.
OK. Once you're on the ballot / ready for the caucuses, it's time to prepare for step three.
3. Participate in a debate.
Let's stick with the assumption that you are going to seek your party's nomination. It's not clear yet what sort of primary debates the Democrats are going to hold, because of ... Hey, wake up. You blacked out for a second. Regardless, a spokesman for the DNC said they hadn't yet discussed the terms under which people would participate in what we expect will have to be at least a few debates.
In past years, it hasn't been the parties that have set those rules. Instead, it's often been up to the networks to decide who gets to appear. Last August Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus announced that the GOP would sanction specific debates and set the standard for participation. Those standards haven't been announced, and a spokesperson for the RNC didn't respond to questions by press time.
But even if you don't want/win your party's nomination, you can still possibly participate in the big presidential debates for the general election. The rules for inclusion in next year's debate haven't yet been set, Janet Brown of the Commission on Presidential Debates told us by phone, but the 2012 guidelines that she offered might help you get ready.
Four years ago, there were three criteria. First, you have to be constitutionally eligible to run, which makes sense. (In other words: Sorry, #Millennials.) Second, you have to be on enough state ballots -- for the general election, mind you, which is a different ballgame in Iowa -- to be able to cobble together 270 electoral votes. And third, you have to poll at 15 percent.
This last qualification is tricky. Brown explained that Gallup has been responsible for the determination in the past, using the average of five national opinion polls taken before and, when possible, between the three debates as the determining factor. That's an awfully high bar -- but if you're polling at under 15 percent in October, the odds that you'll pull out the win are maybe not very good. (The good news? If you qualify for the presidential debate, your VP pick gets a free pass into the vice presidential debate.)
4. Head to Washington for your inauguration.
And that's about it. You've perhaps noticed a few points in the above description that might offer more complexity than others, which is probably to be expected. But, look. You're the one that wants to be president. If you can't handle the rigors of turning in forms and collecting signatures, well, I'm not sure the Washington Post can offer you its endorsement.