Run For Your Precinct is an educational endeavor devoted to the concept that the solution to our nation's most vital political issues lies at the precinct level.

For Your


Here's a little secret both major parties should be thoroughly ashamed of: few precincts are the objects of contested races. Nationwide, we're guessing only five percent of all precincts. In the rest, if you run, you're in - end of story. Hence, run for your precinct. All the same, we know from experience that many people are apt to worry about facing competition. So let's consider the two common scenarios for running for a precinct: one, by primary ballot; and two, by "called meeting" or convention.

Briefly, a note about the word "compys."

As we explain on our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page, the word "compy" is simply shorthand for: anyone who's compromised by their close ties to the public sector, particularly to local and county government. To avoid confusion, we only use the word "compy" on this page and our FAQ page. Maybe someday we'll get rid of it here, too. But it'll be hard to do. It's so darn convenient.

Running in a Primary Election

Across the nation, the more common way to run is by way of the party's primary election ballot. Let's take the case where you file to run and do have competition. Hopefully, you've followed the advice we offered on our Where to Start page, and already know whether or not this person is the precinct's incumbent representative. And if he is, then we presume you're running because you're concerned about his connections or the job he's done.

But if your opponent is unknown to you, then you should try learning something about him. It's not necessary, but it'd be respectful and probably useful. Try asking your party's town or county chairman. If you don't already know him, identify yourself, tell him you've filed to run for your precinct and say you're wondering about the other guy who has also filed. He'll typically know him (especially if he's a compy). Ask if the guy has been a precinct man previously? Does he hold another office? What does he do for a living? The answers could tell you a lot.

If your chairman knows nothing about him, then the guy may be a non-compy, in which case it would be all the more courteous to give him a call. Tell him you've learned you're running for the same precinct, and wanted to get acquainted. Most non-compys, in introducing themselves, will usually volunteer what they do for a living. If he doesn't, take notice. You might prompt him further. Mention what you do, or did, if you're retired, and ask, "How about you?" If he becomes evasive or uneasy, then it's a tip off he may be a compy. And don't feel you're being nosey. This is the public arena, and he's seeking to represent you and your neighborhood.

Now you may find the guy (or lady) is wonderful. In fact, you may decide he might do a better job representing your interests than you could. But if you come away feeling wrong about him - his motivation is unclear, or you figure him for a compy - then proceed under the assumption that you might be doing him a favor by defeating him. Compys often run only because some superior or relative is leaning on them. They'd be happier not being involved, and your party could be the better off.

Alternatively, he might be a compy with political aspirations. Maybe he's on a zoning commission and sees himself as a future Congressman. So do him a favor by putting his charisma to the test before the precinct voters. He might even be your township trustee or county commissioner. Big deal. Fundraising and roadway banner signs won't be a factor here, and his own neighbors may not be that wild about him. In fact, on the next street over, they may never have heard of him. (Can you name your county and local government office-holders?)

The point is, don't be intimidated. If someone else thinks they'd be a better representative, then let them convince the voters of it. You needn't be put off, and you won't be crushed by some powerful political machine. Most compys get elected to precincts without ever having to face anyone. They slip in uncontested or get appointed to empty seats. The vast majority aren't big-time elected officials, they're not widely known, and they're ill at ease when the issue of their self-interests comes up.

So how do you campaign against one? It's pretty simple. It's only a matter of how much energy are you willing to spend. And if you decide to do nothing and leave it entirely up to the voters - well, that's okay too. But be aware, a little effort can produce substantial results.

Now the deluxe approach involves knocking on doors, and might require a few hours on a couple of weekends. But after you've done it, your election chances will be vastly improved, and you'll definitely feel like you've earned the office. Start by contacting your Elections Office. Most offices can freely provide a print-out of all the voters in your precinct, showing party registration, and ordered by street address. It's usually called a "walking list." You want all the voters, because many households have mixed party affiliation, and you don't want to spend too much time talking to members of the other party or with independents (especially if they can't vote in the primary - a detail you should find out from your Elections Office).

Trust us. The first five doors you knock on will be the hardest. You'll hate it, feel terribly shy, and will wonder why you ever got yourself into this. But after you've knocked on a few doors, you'll begin to feel like a pro. Do it shortly before the election. Just smile, and say you're running to represent the neighborhood as the party county committeeman (or whatever it's called). You "just came by to introduce" yourself, "as a courtesy," and you're running because you'd like to make your local party more responsive. Tell them your name, where you live ("two streets over"), and what you do for a living. Wear a name tag they can easily read. Hand them a slip of paper (a fourth of a photocopied 8 1/2 x 11 hand-lettered colored sheet, bearing your name, occupation and the office you're seeking). Don't talk their ears off. Come off as a nice guy and leave a good impression. Visit as many voters as you can, but don't fret about any that you miss. You'll likely find most people are only surprised you're not running for a higher office. They'll probably also tell you you're the first office seeker who's ever knocked on their door.

Here's the final step. And if you passed on the door-knocking approach, just start here. On Primary Election Day, stand outside the precinct's voting location. Simply smile, look pleasant, and nod at the people while holding a hand-lettered sign (nothing clever, no artwork). The sign should be easily read from a distance, saying something like "Joe Smith for Committee Man." Better yet, pay some local shop to print the same words prominently on the front of a large colored T-shirt. If you supply the shirt, it might cost you ten dollars. If you're definitely running against a compy, you might add an extra line about your livelihood, the equivalent of: "I'm a plumber." If you're not wearing a lettered T-shirt, then you'll probably need some colored slips of papers to hold on to and to pass out. Something very simple with your name and the office you're seeking. But don't be aggressive about handing them out (it bothers some people). For the most part, just stick with "Morning" or "Hi." Don't get into many long conversations (you don't want to miss any voters you could be smiling at). Finally, if you can't handle being at the polling place all day, then just try for the morning and after-work rush times.

Follow these steps and you'll have a decent chance at beating anyone. And if you do defeat a county commissioner, don't get a big head about it. He'll still be the commissioner. He just won't be your precinct man.

Running in a "Called Meeting" or Convention

The less common way to get elected precinct delegate involves attending a "called meeting" or convention (which can be called at a local, county or district level). Depending on where you live, it could be scheduled before or after the primary election. But in either situation, you can't know in advance who, if anyone, is going to attend from your precinct. As a result, preparing for competition is a bit problematic.

Still, here's what you can do. Call your local or county chairman and pepper him with questions (go here, starting at question #25). You'll want to know how many delegates does your precinct elect? Does anyone from your precinct typically show up? Who? When does the key voting take place? Obviously, you'll want to figure out if you need to bring family members or neighborhood friends along. (Maybe your spouse or adult kid can leave after a half hour. Or maybe they can be elected themselves to precinct slots.)

Think broadly. Who do you have influence with? Can you persuade other like-minded people to sacrifice an evening to get elected to their precincts? In some places, the one meeting is pretty much it for most of the attendees. At that meeting you'll elect the next higher level executives, and then everyone else is excused for the next two years. In such circumstances, we naturally urge you to run for the next higher level, or at least to back another non-compy. But the key is: show up at the initial meeting with some company.

Secondly, you're likely to bump into some unknown people at this meeting. You may wonder who they are and if they're compys. If so, remember, there're only two reasons for showing up at a party convention. Either you're there to make things better, or you're there for your private interests (compys). So don't be reluctant to express yourself about issues and to make yourself known. Non-compys will tend to respond similarly, while compys will tend to be closed-mouth. And if you notice people in clumps that appear detached from others, it's probably because they all know each other down at the courthouse. Compys tend to flock together.