Precinct Organizing: The Path to the Promised Land

The path to a Democratic majority and possibly subsequent realignment will be paved with the work of precinct captains and the volunteers they are so key in bringing into the process. However, this post isn't completely focused the importance of precinct captains and precinct-level organizing. This post is mainly focused on the question I've been asked over and over again: how are precinct-captains recruited and therefore how are precincts organized?

As a prospective precinct captain for precinct 3230 in Marion County, Florida, I have a few ideas.

First, a little background information. Late President Harry Truman once said that being a precinct captain was the most important job he ever had. It's up to a precinct captain to get members of their respective political party (for our uses Democrats) as well as independents to get out and vote for their party's slate of candidates. Put simply, precinct captains often make or brake elections for candidates.

Democrats cannot expect to truly build a strong majority and realign the public toward progressivism until it has precinct captains in as many precincts as possible. We already know what happens when Democratic precinct captains are nonexistent. West Virginia (as discussed in this Hotline article) is a perfect example.

However, building a strong precinct organization is a lot easier said than done. I know in my home county, Marion County, Florida, has 140 precincts. The local county party (what is called a Democratic Executive Committee or DEC here in Florida) has only managed to have at least 1 precinct captain in just roughly 50 of those precincts. Among that group of folks, roughly 30-40 are active and at least come to monthly meetings (though I have to confess, even though I'm friends with all of them, they do little else.) Just organizing a single precinct can be a taxing activity for a local party (if they're even engaged in this important responsibility at all.)

Here's how I believe a precinct should be organized:
1.)    Get a list of all the registered Democrats in the targeted precinct (from your local supervisor of elections, or whoever managed elections in your county - in Florida the state party has provided each county party a way to access this information quickly and easily.)
2.)    Take the list of registered Democrats, and pull out those Democrats who have voted in 4 out of the last 4 elections (including primaries.) These are committed Democrats.
3.)    Get a team together (hopefully a county party's precinct committee or whichever person or institution that should be dealing with this, again if there is such an entity.) Find a central meeting place and prepare for a meetup.
4.)    Send out a snail mail invitation (preferably hand-written, sorry, but this is far more likely to get read) to all the "4/4" Democrats to the meetup.
5.)    Coordinate a phone bank to call all of these active Democrats to coincide with the arrival of the snail mail and encourage them to attend.
6.)    At the meetup, discuss the need to organize the precinct and how it figures into the larger Democratic strategy. Set some dates for a few (3-4) more meetups.
7.)    At the subsequent meetups, discuss local issues and ideas on how to solve them, invite candidates to come speak - and always have free food. Hopefully, some leaders might emerge.
8.)    At the final county party sponsored meetup, ask the group to elect a captain and turn over control of the small organization to the captain. But don't just walk away! Always have something there for the precinct captain to fall back on and get support from within the county party.

However, I don't think anyone would argue that the best way to organize a precinct is for someone interested to come forward and agree to stop complaining, and start leading.

We in the blogosphere should take note. To all the bloggers who only blog and haven't given a dime to a campaign, or more importantly, your local or state party (or even the DNC), or haven't volunteered, or who aren't a precinct captain: you should change your ways.

We all want to see the Democratic Party succeed in 2006 and beyond. However, there's a difference between those who talk about victory (or complain about existing inefficiencies) and those who work to make victory happen. I hope that we in the blogosphere will take a closer look at what's happening in our communities (though I don't want to diminish the efforts of those in the blogosphere who blog as well as work for change at the local level) and be the change we want to see.

Tags: Blogosphere, Crashing the Gate, local politics, Precinct Captains, Precincts (all tags)



Re: Precinct Organizing: The Path to the Promised

exactly what i'm talking about, with resource guides &c.  find something that works for you, post the ideas for everyone else to use.  yes, local circumstances differ, but we're smart and we can adapt once we get the general idea.  thanks very much for this quick and handy guide!

also: i tried to get you on the other post (about the waves of local political groups) but i don't know if you got a chance to see that message... can you send me your email address?  mine's ssachs (at) plantingliberally (dot) org

by Shai Sachs 2006-04-19 03:07PM | 0 recs
Re: Precinct Organizing: The Path to the Promised

Here's one important element to add, which will help you and the group figure out who would make good precinct leaders and who will not.

At every meeting, there should be an activity related to organizing the precinct in which everyone agrees to take part. Ideally, this activity should run a minimum of 1 hour. 2 is better. But time is an issue, so a 30-45 minute activity could also be put on the agenda

These activities could be things like:

-Registering unregistered voters in the precinct (based on which addresses are missing from the Voter File you get from your local party organization or simply standing outside a Wal-Mart or some other "high traffic" area near your precinct)

-Doing a precinct walk to ask neighbors to call their US/State Reps/Senators or city councilors/county commissioners and urge them to vote for or against some hot-button issue. YOu can have fliers made up to give short background and you can give the people you talk to your cell phone and have them make the call right there.

-You can do a precinct walk targeting registered voters who do not vote regularly, asking them to make a commitment to vote in the next election (this work better if you have an election coming up in the next 6 weeks), and having them sign a "Count On Me" to vote peice of paper, which you can use to follow up with them as the election gets closer.

-You can do a phone bank to registered voters introducing yourselves and getting commitments from the voters to meet with you (the individual phone banker) for a short meeting about what kinds of issues they want the party to address.

-Bunches of other things

The point of taking some action at every meeting is two-fold. First, everyone will feel like the meeting actually accomplished something tangible aside from whatever adminstrative duties and feeling of solidarity get addressed before the action part.

Second, the whole group will see who does well with these activities, which will be the life-blood of serious precinct organizing, and therefore who is best suited to being the captain.

Note that my structure is just a suggestion. Maybe you do a meeting first, where you plan the activity, then do the activity later, on a weekend morning or something. Maybe you combine them both into a 4 hour "mobilization" with short mini-trainings on the activity, background on some hot-button local issues that will get people interested in why they should be thinking about voting that the captians can talk to the people at home about, and whatever local precinct business needs to get taken care of, followed by the activity.

Finally, I would suggest that the pool of people from which you draw your captains should ALL be invovled in the activites even after the "captain" in picked. It should function as a leadership team, which shared responsibilities and shared reqards. Otherwise the captain will have to shoulder all the duties by him or herself, which will lead to burnout, while everyone else in the precinct sits around being unaccountable to the goals they collectively set and doing no work.

If you want to talk about this stuff more, you can hit me up at nathanhj at gmail dot com.

by nathanhj 2006-04-20 08:09AM | 0 recs
Biggest competition is time
People have busy schedules. Offer a mechanism for them to support you that does not involve a lot of time commitment:
 - Money: Century club ($100/yr).
 - Spaghetti dinner fundraiser
 - $10 ticket to spaghetti dinner (even if they can't make it)
 - I'm on your mailing list; You can count on me card.
by MetaData 2006-04-22 08:58PM | 0 recs


Advertise Blogads