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.

The nitty-gritty on how political party committees work.

Politics is about the exercise of power. And not surprisingly, the way it functions is always "political." Consequently, precinct men, who can wield significant power, will commonly align themselves to advance their agendas. Agendas can be good or bad, but the process itself is neutral. It’s simply the way things work.

As a result, there’s almost always a faction in control of a committee, and which wants to maintain its control. And understanding how a faction can leverage its influence is a subtle and important thing to grasp.

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Now when it comes to any particular faction, one person might deride it as a machine, clique or mob, while another might see it as being on the side of the angels. In either case, it'll be seen as only natural that the faction will seek to keep its power. So if a sizable number of individuals were to suddenly show up with no known ties to anyone, it would have to be seen as a potential threat to the governing faction's control. For that reason, the leadership of most committees aren’t particularly interested in the idea of urging people they're unfamiliar with to run for their precincts.

If you doubt this, consider your own experience. In all the years you've been a registered voter, have you ever been asked to run for your precinct? Even in an impersonal way? For instance, do you recall ever reading any appeals placed in the newspaper about it?

Likely at some point, your local party has mailed you a list of endorsed candidates. How hard would it have been to add a couple of lines to that mailing urging people to consider running for their precinct? A line or two could have directed you to a web site, such as this one, where you could have learned more about the subject. But in all likelihood, that’s never happened – and won’t.

Perhaps you’re thinking, if the local committee doesn’t encourage people to run, won’t they shortly end up with too few participants to be active and effective? Well, yes, they often will. But being active isn’t necessarily as important to them as maintaining control. That’s why you’ll often see rather inactive committees long doing nothing to attract new participants.

But don’t think this means precinct seats tend to go unfilled. Every seat represents voting power, so generally most every seat gets filled. Just not in the way you might imagine.

For instance, in states where precinct offices are elected during a primary election, it’s common for a large portion of them to go unsought. In many areas, no one will file as a candidate in well over half of all precincts. Moreover, where somebody does file, he'll usually face no opposition. While there’s no known data collected on such matters (which may be a telling fact about the state and national parties), where we’ve looked, it’s typical to see something like 95% of all precinct seats going uncontested.

So if too few people run for their precincts, how do the slots get filled? It happens as follows (and of course, we’re speaking here in general terms, since different states have different rules).

The few precinct men that are elected in a primary (most of them with no opposition), will formally convene as a committee in an initial “organizational” meeting. The first order of business is for them to elect their governing executives (chairman, treasurer, secretary, etc.). Secondly, anyone in attendance from an unfilled precinct can then petition for the right to represent their precinct. If there’s more than one petitioner, then the elected precinct men will award the seat to whichever one they prefer. But in practice, few people ever seek this privilege. Mostly because few are ever aware of this meeting, or of this option.

Finally, the governing faction will move on to nomimate its friends, colleagues, and relatives as appointees to fill the remaining empty slots. The faction, using its majority vote, will then elect their appointees and can quickly double or triple the size of the committee. In most places, these appointees needn’t be present, or even residents of the precincts they’re appointed to. All the same, they’re given voting rights and full claim to the precinct seat for the full two or four year term of office. If an actual resident of the precinct shows up at a future meeting seeking to represent his neighborhood, it'll be tough noogies for him.

Moreover, one will seldom see these appointed precinct men at any meetings during their terms, except for the one or two crucial meetings when an important candidate endorsement is to be voted upon - and then they come out of the woodwork - because they'll be given that special phone call from an insider. But of course, that’s why they were appointed, to exercise a vote when called upon, and to extend the political influence of the governing faction.

Still, you might be wondering, if a faction already has the votes to control a local committee, why would it bother to go through the charade of appointing disinterested people to fill empty precinct slots? The reason is this: in most places, everyone that represents a precinct in the local committee is automatically a member of a larger county committee; which is the next party level up. That's where the leverage comes into play.

To demonstrate this, imagine a local committee comprised of 42 precincts. After the primary, only 14 of the precincts are filled by candidates. The governing faction has eight solid votes, and they elect their members as the committee's executives, each time defeating an opposing faction by a vote of 8 to 6. The majority faction then appoints their cronies (none of whom are in attendance) to fill the 28 empty precincts where no one ran. This means, when the members of this local faction attend the county committee, and eventually vote on the all-important candidate endorsements for public office, they'll control 36 votes, leveraged up from their initial 8. Meanwhile, the other 6 will likely get to watch as all their nominated candidates get voted down. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how it works in party committees all across this land.

What's to be done about it? Perhaps nothing. We're strongly opposed to allowing non-residents to be appointed to fill precinct openings. All the same, it's important to know this kind of appointment process has long been a common practice, and is likely to remain one. And again, it's altogether natural for governing factions to exist within committees and to seek to maintain their control.

However, here're the main things to ponder. Who comprises the governing faction in your area? And what's their agenda? Do they actually represent your interests well?

When you start considering those questions, then you'll be getting to the main concern of this website. To examine them, please see more here.