By Doug Ibendahl, September 27, 2011
In response to a number of questions we’ve received regarding elected vs. appointed Precinct Committeemen, here are some details and background.
Precincts which aren’t filled with Precinct Committeemen by election in the March Republican Primary (so called “vacant precincts”) can and often are later filled with Precinct Committeemen appointed by the GOP County Chairman. The County Chairman alone has that appointment power under Illinois law.
But note: appointed status is an inferior alternative for a Republican seeking to be a Precinct Committeeman.
For one thing, an appointed Precinct Committeeman serves at the pleasure of the County Chairman, and can be removed any time, for any reason down the road.
But more importantly, only elected Precinct Committeemen get a vote for the GOP County Chairman.
Just like Precinct Committeemen, GOP County Chairs serve a two-year term. One has to be a Precinct Committeeman in the county in order to be eligible for the party’s County Chairmanship.
Here’s how it works. In the upcoming March Republican Primary, all candidates for Precinct Committeeman in every Illinois County (other than Cook) will be on the ballot.
Candidates who prevail become the duly elected Precinct Committeeman effective that day. (It’s a party office, so the primary is the election.)
Thirty days after the March Primary, state law requires each County GOP organization to hold a County Party Convention. It’s at that County Convention every two years where the incumbent GOP County Chairman is reelected, or a new one is chosen.
102 County GOP Conventions will be held simultaneously on one night in April next year. This is essentially a reorganization meeting for each County GOP, as well as a welcome to the incoming class of new Precinct Committeemen (and new Ward Committeemen in Chicago).
Illinois law explicitly prohibits a County Chairman from appointing Precinct Committeemen for the 30 days between the Primary and the County Convention. That “black out period” is designed to limit at least some of the self-dealing games that a few bad apples might be tempted to play. For example, the appointment power could be misused to stack the County Convention with pals right before the event for the sole purpose of voting a certain way. Fortunately, Illinois law prevents that.
In other words, if you aren’t elected to the post of Precinct Committeeman in March, you won’t have a role in your County GOP Convention in April.
There’s really no reason to wait and hope for an appointment anyway. You only need the valid signatures of 10 registered voters in your precinct to get on the ballot – and one of those 10 signatures can be your own. It’s a small investment of sweat equity to attain a very important party office.
We’ve talked a lot about vacant precincts, but in a real sense every precinct will be vacant come March and election time. No incumbent owns their post. If you currently have a Republican Precinct Committeeman and that person is serving you well, that’s great. Help that person if she or he is running again.
But if your precinct has been unrepresented, or if the incumbent has been missing-in-action, then consider running yourself – or at a minimum help recruit.
If you have a good Republican County Chairman, that’s great too. Work with her or him to help recruit good Precinct Committeeman candidates where needed in your county. You’ll find links to all of the County GOP organizations at the Republican Precinct Project.
Naturally I would like to see more Pro-Platform Republicans running. I would also strongly encourage Republicans who want this volunteer post to do the actual party building work – and not simply because it provides a vote for another party official up the ladder. Having a vote for County Chairman is great – but that shouldn’t be the end all.
By the way, if you’re in a county with a County Chairmen who maybe isn’t so good (hopefully just a very few of those) – just remember that you don’t need anyone’s permission to run for Precinct Committeeman or any office. If you’re a Republican – this is your Party.
December 5th is the last day to collect petition signatures and it’s also the last day to file those petitions with your County Clerk.
Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.