The Precinct Committeeman's Veil of Anonymity
Don’t know who your precinct committeeman (PC) is? Don’t worry neither does the state or your local government. Yet, these PC’s and Vice Committeemen (VC) are elected by the people (though to a political office and not a government office) in primaries or appointed by the County Chairman. Appointment happens more often than you’d think.
PC’s, however, hold quite a bit of power especially if a seat on any government level, is vacated for some reason. With this power, they vote for County Chairman in addition to replacing elected officials should a seat be vacated. After Congressman Souder stepped down earlier this year, this set off a chain of caucuses in northeast Indiana bringing about new leadership in many different seats on all levels of government. Yet your average voter didn’t even have a say in who became their next candidate or elected official. And the County Chairman doesn’t have to inform any government agency of who those PC’s and VC’s are who voted in that election.
State Senator Jim Banks wants to bring transparency to this.
(Read more after the leap)
In the year of the caucuses for northeast Indiana, a major weakness in the system was exposed: No government agency holds the official record of exactly who votes in the caucuses, meaning the information is not a public record. A newly elected state senator – who also serves as a party chairman – rightly wants to change that.
Precinct committeemen voting in a caucus chose Marlin Stutzman as the Republican congressional candidate. Another GOP caucus later selected not just the candidate but the officeholder – Sue Glick – who will serve the remaining two years of Stutzman’s state Senate term. Other caucuses chose two officeholders to fill the remainder of terms for resigning state representatives as well as the candidates to replace them on the ballot for 2011.
Ideally, Republicans and Democrats elect their precinct committeemen to four-year terms, with Republicans voting in the presidential election year, and Democrats voting in the even-numbered year between presidential elections. But the reality is that many of the ballot positions are vacant in the primaries, so county party chairs appoint many of the precinct committeemen. In Whitley County, for example, 16 of the 34 precinct committeemen are appointed.
While election officials have records of who won the posts in primaries, there is no systematic way to update the public on who is appointed to the positions.
Newly elected State Sen. Jim Banks, who is also the Whitley County Republican chairman, said some voters who aligned themselves with the tea party were frustrated in seeking the names of the precinct committeemen who would make decisions usually made by primary and general election voters. Even candidates can have trouble getting the names, he said.
“If you’re a candidate who has the favor of the party chairman, it’s not hard to get the list,” Banks said. But if not, the chairman “doesn’t have to give you the list.”
(Banks) has filed a bill calling for county party chairs to file an updated list of precinct committeemen annually with the county election board, as well as requiring updated changes. It specifically requires that the information be open to the public.
Not all county chairmen behave in such a manner. In fact, 9 out of 10 County Chairmen who handle this correctly, including my own. I know as their have been more than our fair share of caucuses for various reasons in my home county. But there are a few who don’t and spoil it for the whole system.
As the old line goes, “With great power comes great responsibility”. PC’s can have great power and it has been shown this past year. When it comes to elections, even on the PC level, transparency is part of that responsibility.