Precinct Committee Candidate Checklist
Here are two checklists that will get you started in your quest to take power.
Because this is general-purpose document, we'll use committeemen to refer to the occupant of the precinct committee office and use county clerk to refer to the election official in a county. Some counties may have election boards or other designations for the official in charge of the elections.
Although committeemen go by various names in different states, and although every state has a different way of electing committeemen, there are several common tasks that you can take to prepare to occupy this crucial center of power in party politics.
This checklist only applies to the major parties -- Democratic and Republican. In some states, a third party may have qualified as a major party, but even in those rare instances, the centers of power are only inside the two well-known parties. Don't waste your time on third parties, the wheel has already been invented, just use it.
You may not consider some of these steps necessary, but if you need help, you should have all of this information at your command.
In order to know how to plan, you must know what the rules are and what the lay of the land is. In most cases, you won't be in a battle, you'll be seizing power in unoccupied territory. But in some cases, and these cases will increase as the regular folk grow in power, the powers-that-be will fight you, sometimes every step of the way. The more threatened they feel, the harder they will fight. With knowledge of the rules of the game -- the state statutes that govern political parties and the party by-laws, you can always win.
The committeeman is an elected party office. You should always assume the mind set that you will make a better committeeman than the other guy. Don't be discouraged by the fact that the position may already be filled. Your goal is not just to fill vacancies, even though there are many. Your goal is to get elected. You may find that your neighbor is a committeeman. So, what! If you're learning about the committeeman from someone other than the neighbor, then he hasn't been doing his job. There are many elected and appointed committeeman who use the committeeman position to be part of the party's social activities. They may not actually perform any of the typical committeeman duties. On the other hand, the incumbent may have an agenda or perspective that is inconsistent with what your beliefs about what the party represents. Or the incumbent may be someone who just goes along with whatever the party leaders decide, which is probably the worst situation from the standpoint of principles.
Information Gathering Checklist
When gathering information, the old adage, you get more with honey than with vinegar, is as true as ever. So, don't be confrontational.
You are encouraged to get in the habit of not wasting time. You can certainly start your search for this information on the world-wide web, but there's no guarantee that the information you need is available on a web page. The most direct route is to use the telephone. Find the telephone numbers and call during business hours or leave messages. You may be referred to a web page, but at least you'll have a web address and the knowledge that what you're looking for can be found there. You can try using e-mail, but there's no way of knowing that someone is actually reading and responding to messages. If you don't get a response within two business days, make the phone call.
- Find out what precinct you live in.Because of redistricting, your precinct may have changed this year. The county clerk will have the most accurate information on precinct maps, but some Secretaries of State have on-line pages that allow you to search for your polling place, which will also give you the precinct name.
- Get the contact information for the county central committee also known as the county party.Get the names of the current officers and their positions. Many county parties have web sites or social network pages. It's possible that a small county may not have an organization in place, but every state does, if you can't locate the county party, contact the state party.
- Get on the e-mail distribution list for both the county and the state party.If the party has a web site, it's likely that there will be a sign-up page on the site. In any case, you want to be on the e-mail distribution list used to update party members about events. In many cases, the party will share your e-mail address with other related party organizations and candidates at the national, state, and local level, so you may want to consider creating an e-mail account or alias to use specifically for this purpose.
- Get the contact information for the state party, too.It's good to have the names and positions of the current officers, as well. When you have names, you can ask to speak directly to them if you are not getting the answers you expect.
- Get all four sets of the rules that govern all political party activity in a state -- state statutes, the state party by-laws, the county party by-laws, and parliamentarian rules, typically some version of Robert's Rules of Order.The state statutes may be the hardest because they may be spread out over several codes (compilations of statutes), but in general they will be found under the elections code. The party by-laws are documents approved by previous party committees. At any point in time, they are fixed, i.e., not in a state of change. Robert's Rules of Order is a book. It may be the epitome of dullness, but it is a must for any committeeman, and for any candidate that will be elected by caucus or convention.
- Once you know your precinct, find from the county party all the people that currently hold committee offices in your precinct.The precinct may have more than one committeeman, gender-specific precinct positions, and even a set of officers comparable to the county officers. When you get the names, also get residence address, phone number, e-mail address, and whether the people were elected or appointed. As elected party officials, this information is public information. Either the county party or the county clerk, and usually both, will have this information and the information should be the same from either source unless one or the other has not followed the rules.
- When getting the current committeemen information, also find out how many, and which vacancies exist in the precinct.Vacancies are extremely common at the precinct level.
- While you can read all the rules later, for this purpose just ask the county party how committeemen are elected.It will either be by ballot at a primary election or in person at a caucus or convention.
- Now find out when the next election -- ballot, caucus, or convention -- occurs.If it is by ballot at a primary election, find out the first day and the last day that candidates may file. If the election is too far off, those dates may not yet be set, but typical filing periods are about a month long ending two to three months before the election date.
- If it's an election, find the procedure for getting on the ballot.It will always be a filing of some kind -- either a declaration or a petition. If a petition is involved, find out how many valid signatures you need to file in order to qualify for the election.
- If the process involves petitions, find out where to obtain the petition forms.Also find out whether or not you can print your own petition forms (and the rules for that), and an explanation of rules for gathering signatures if those rules are not printed on the petition form itself. Petitions may not be available until close to the opening of the filing period. Don't use petitions from previous elections or petitions that are not for the committeeman office.
- If it's a caucus or convention, ask for the date, time, and place at which it is scheduled.If no date has been set, ask for an approximate date so that you'll have an idea of how much time you have to prepare.
In most cases, the qualifications for the committeeman position are very minimal. Basic qualifications will usually be defined by the state constitution or a statute, but the state or county party may establish additional qualifications in their by-laws. These are the types of qualifications you may run into.
- Are you older than 18 or will you be older than 18 by the time of the election?
- Are you currently eligible to vote?Most people are, and those who aren't will know why they are ineligible.
- How long have you lived in the precinct?Some counties may require residence either in the county or in the precinct for a specific period of time by the time of the election.
- Does your voter registration reflect your party preference?In states that don't register party preference, you must be willing to declare your preference in a formal way. And in a very few states, you must have been registered in the party for a period of time well prior to the election. There may also be exceptions for people who have recently moved into the precinct or have registered to vote for the first time.
- Are you a government employee who has a position that is specifically (it must be specific) excluded by statute from holding a political party office?The kinds of jobs that may have exclusions are typically at the state level (not Federal and not local) and involve a discretionary authority to disperse money or approve contracts. The argument goes that these are, somehow, a conflict of interest.
- Are you an elected public (not party) official?Some jurisdictions take the conflict of interest idea to an illogical extreme and prohibit elected officials from holding party offices.
- Are you male or female?Some state party by-laws provide that there be equal representation between men and women, either at the precinct level, or further up the organization hierarchy. When these rules are in place, they are strictly enforced.
If you're participating in any of the Project City Hall training or you're anticipating doing so, you'll be well ahead of the game if you have these checklists completed beforehand. You don't have to wait to start on them, no matter when the next committeeman election occurs.