The Precinct Convention seems to be one of the best kept secrets of the American political process. Its secrecy is shrouded not in a veil of conspiracy, but rather of simple ignorance. The fact of the matter is, most Americans have never even heard of it, yet it is here that the foundation of the political process starts. It is here that additions, deletions, and modifications of the party platform begin, and where delegates for the next level of the process are chosen.
When you go to vote on voting day, the location where you vote is determined by the precinct in which you live. A precinct is a geographical area which has been defined by the county in which you live. All people who live within the boundaries of a particular precinct will vote in a particular place. This concept should be familiar to Church members. You can think of a precinct as being analogous to a "Ward". Indeed, in some states, precincts are referred to as "wards".
The precinct meeting takes place in the location where your precinct votes after the polls are closed on election night during your state's primary elections, which are held every two years. For each precinct there will be two meetings; one for the Democrats, and one for the Republicans. I am not sure how the other parties handle this, however both the Republicans and Democrats follow this system. Sometimes more than one precinct may vote at the same polling location; each precinct will have a separate place to hold their meetings.
Once everyone is there (usually they wait 5-10 minutes in case anyone shows up late), the meeting is called to order, and a chairperson is elected, as is a secretary, and a sergeant at arms. They then attend to old business, new business, and adjourn. There usually isnít any old business. New business consists primarily of voting on motions, and electing delegates to the Senatorial convention. The voting on motions part is where you can have your say in modifying the party platform.
Lets suppose that you are an ardent supporter of repealing the income tax and replacing it with a national sales tax. You could at this time present a motion that such verbiage be added to the party platform. You would present your motion in the form of a proposal that can be voted on. Its usually easier if you think of what you want to propose beforehand and write it down on paper. Make copies so that you can pass them around for everyone to see. You can make your proposal as plain or as flowery as you want. You can have as many proposals as you want. I usually call these the "Whereases", because I usually write them that way.
Writing them down has another benefit. You have two years between precinct conventions to do this. You can collect your motions over that period of time instead of trying to come up with things off-the-cuff while you are sitting at the meeting. Then you have less of a chance of forgetting something you wanted to propose, and you have the time to polish the verbiage if you wish.
Once you have submitted your proposals, discussion may ensue. If someone disagrees with your proposal, they can state a case why they disagree. You can defend your position, and others can join in on either side. Once the debate is finished, then everyone votes. If your proposal is accepted, it will then be forwarded to the resolutions committee at the Senatorial convention. Last election, I proposed six different resolutions. All six were accepted and went on to the Senatorial convention.
Finally, you will select delegates to represent your precinct at the State Senatorial Convention. How difficult is it to be a delegate? Remember when I said this was a well-kept secret? The truth is, if you want to be a delegate, chances are you will have no problem. The number of delegates a precinct can send is based on how many registered voters in that precinct from your party voted in the last gubernatorial election. In my precinct last time, we were authorized 11 delegates and 11 alternates. Since only five people showed up at the precinct convention, we all went as delegates. Thatís right. Only five people showed up. Two of those were my wife and myself.
And how do you go about being involved in all this? All you have to do is show up! Thatís it, just be there. As long as you are a registered voter, you can attend the meeting. Actually, you can attend the meeting even if you arenít a registered voter, just not as a participant. In that case, you can watch, but thatís about all. You canít engage in the debate, nor can you vote. Be careful however. You may find that you are the only person in attendance! Thatís right, there arenít huge throngs breaking down the doors to get into the precinct convention. Remember how few people register to vote, and how few registered voters actually vote? Well, the number of voters who attend the precinct meetings are a very small percentage of those who vote. As I said, last time only five people in my precinct showed. Many precincts have no representation at all. This makes it real easy to get your proposals passed and elect yourself a delegate! Remember in a previous article when I mentioned the "coup" the "Christian Right" pulled off by "taking over" the Republican Party in Texas ten years or so ago? Thatís how they did it. They got together, decided what they wanted to do, and they just showed up.
If you do end up being the only person to attend, donít worry. There will be an information packet explaining exactly what you need to do. Have fun! Perhaps I will see you at my next precinct convention in 2002!