Smile Politely

What the heck is a precinct committee person?

When you get your ballot for the primary, you will most likely be voting for a precinct committee person. In many instances there will just be one name listed, a few precincts might have two to choose from. So who is this person and why are they on your ballot? I’ll be honest, I had no idea until a couple of years ago, and even now I have questions about why we are voting on someone for this position. I reached out to Shawna Martell, who is a current precinct committee person and is on the ballot again this Spring to get a little insight.

Martell ran in 2018 as a way to get more involved in local politics. Here’s what she shared with me:

A precinct committee person is a member of the party (Democratic or Republican) Central Committee responsible for voter education, engagement, and turnout within their precincts. Precincts are generally quite small. Mine is around 1,300 addresses, so it’s my job to engage those voters and ensure they know when and where to vote and who is on their ballot. Voters will reach out to me for help with their polling location or information about specific candidates. I’m always thrilled when a voter remembers me from a previous time I’ve knocked their door. Having someone in your neighborhood who is responsible to help you with your voting questions is incredibly valuable.

In addition to voter engagement, the Precinct Committee is responsible for candidate recommendation and slating. Candidate recommendations are needed when a seat, such as one on the county board, is vacated and the prior board-member was a Democrat. The PCs from the county board district vote to recommend a replacement to the board chair. The chair is not obligated to follow that recommendation, as we’ve witnessed in the last several vacancy appointments.

Candidate slating is required when someone wishes to run in the general election as a Democrat when no one ran in the primary. This most recently occurred when the Committee slated Dustin Heuerman to run for County Sheriff. The candidate is still responsible for gathering the required signatures to appear on the ballot, but the Committee votes on whether they can appear as a Democrat on the ballot.

For anyone interested in this position, there is training offered through the state party organization, which provides access to voter information so you have a better idea which doors to concentrate your efforts. There is also a cohort of people who have lots of experience as well as newcomers, and we share a lot of ideas and canvass together for candidates.

The person on your ballot, if the race isn’t contested, can be elected as long as just one person fills in the bubble next to their name. If there’s a choice, it can be a little tricky to find out more about these folks, but if you look at your sample ballot, then look them up on the candidate guide, you’ll most likely find an email where you can reach out. 

Because this is a wholly partisan position, they are elected in the primary rather than the general, and there is one Democrat and one Republican that can hold the position in each precinct. Then they go to work getting you informed and out to vote in November. 

Staff writer

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