Sunday, October 9, 2011

Precinct Committeeman
- A Center of Power


Every one of the 3,163 counties in the United States is divided into voting districts called precincts or wards. For the purpose of this article, I'll refer to precinct, which is used synonymously with ward. Every registered voter in the United States is attached to one of the hundreds of thousands of precincts. At the lowest tabulation level, all votes in every election are tabulated at the precinct level.

Every precinct has a name designation. It may just be a sequential number within the county or it may include other information like a city, township, or neighborhood name.

All politics is local.

That statement is never more true than when talking about the precinct committeeman. The precinct committeeman is the grassroots representative of a political party in the precinct in which he lives.

Because it is a local position, the office of precinct committeeman sometimes goes by a different name. In the State of Washington, for example, the office is called precinct committee officer, thereby avoiding the gender issue. In some states, such as Arizona, there may be more than one precinct committeeman representing a single precinct. In other states, such as Oregon, not only may there may be more than one precinct committeeman, but for each male officeholder, there is a corresponding female officeholder.

In most states, the precinct committeeman is a directly elected position; in a few it's done by caucus. The voters qualified to elect the precinct committeeman are those who have registered with the same political party and who live in the same precinct. Because precincts by design only represent a small number of voters (generally around 1,000), the number of voters that a precinct committeeman actually represents, when excluding voters who are not registered in the same party is just a fraction of that.

As many as half of all precinct committeemen positions, nation-wide, are vacant or appointed.

While I may need to know all this to help you, you don't need to know it. The only thing you need to know is what the lay of the land is for your precinct.

What You Need To Know

Because there are fifty states and because each state can pretty much do as it wants with respect to political parties, there are, potentially, lots of differences between the generalities I'm going to share and the actual situation in your particular precinct.

In general, these are the basics.

In most states precinct committeeman are elected every two years (sometimes every four years, such as Cook County (Chicago) Illinois).

Precinct committeemen are elected at the primary election in every year that members of Congress are elected.

Precinct committeemen may only be elected to represent the party in which they are registered.

Elected, not appointed, precinct committeemen can vote for the party's county executive committee in the organizing meeting that follows the election in which they become precinct committeemen.

Precinct committeemen must file paperwork with the county election official, usually the county clerk, in order to be placed on the ballot.

If there are the same or fewer people on the ballot as there are elected precinct committeeman positions available, the election official may not have to print a ballot, because all are "elected" by there being no competitors for the positions.

The filing methods and deadlines for precinct committeeman are the same as for the other party candidates for the primary election.

Voting for Party Leaders

The reason that I am challenging you to become a precinct committeeman is that one of the duties of elected precinct committeemen is to vote for the party's county executive committee. The county executive committee controls everything that the party does within the county, and in many states, the party county executive committees vote for the party's state executive committee, which in turn votes for the national executive committee. Even in the states where the state executive committee is voted directly by party voters, the precinct committeeman has a huge potential effect because in those states, the state executive committee is made up of representatives from districts. In other words, no state executive committee is elected based on the total votes cast state-wide.

This voting position makes you, the precinct committeeman, a very powerful person, assuming that you use your vote wisely.

You, with a few other like-minded individuals, can literally take over the party apparatus in a county. And that includes much of the decision-making regarding endorsements and how party money is spent.

Imagine, if you will, a cadre of newly elected precinct committeemen, fed up with the way the party has been run (or not) for years, now in control of all the political apparatus at the party's disposal. Which candidates would you run? How would you spend the money in the party treasury?

But don't get too drunk on that power. And don't count your chickens before they hatch.

Other Duties

The precinct committeeman position is an unpaid, voluntary position. You can put as much into it as you like, but there is usually a minimal amount of time that needs to be devoted to it.

Some of the other typical duties that precinct committeemen are responsible for within the precinct's boundaries are:

  • Assist in voter registration.
  • Assist voters on election days.
  • Canvass (knock on doors), sometimes with a candidate in tow.
  • Deliver campaign literature.

Notice that I said responsible for. This does not mean that you have to do these things yourself. You'll have other voters (and sometimes other precinct committeemen) in your precinct who will volunteer to help you.

The savvy precinct committeeman will delegate most of his duties to volunteers who will be the boots on the ground. Through a small team of volunteers, you will not only keep the party's voter list up to date, but also will enhance it.

All this does not take a lot of time during most of the year. Obviously, just before elections activity will pick up, but remember that you can delegate much of the time-consuming work to volunteers.


If you want to really change things, instead of just talking about it, from the bottom up, then I challenge you to get on the ballot for your state's primary election in 2012.

The filing periods have already started in several states with spring primaries. Some of the deadlines are as early as Thanksgiving, so you need to get your filing instructions from the county clerk now, so you can get everything in order before the deadline.

I'll be conducting general and state-specific teleconferences on the precinct committeemen positions where you'll get to ask questions.

But it first takes your commitment to do something other than talk. Let me know that you're committed to do this in 2012, so that I can set the dates and times for the teleconferences. Send a text to (909)274-0813 saying "I'm committed!" along with your name and e-mail address. I know, you're crazy; crazy like a fox.