You learn lots of interesting tidbits of information working at the public library. Sometimes strangers recount stories in full historical detail for you; sometimes you stumble upon tantalizing facts while innocently shelf-reading; and sometimes you learn the Dewey Decimal System by heart… because shelf-reading.
Then there are the rarest of times: when a coworker points you in the direction of some truly useful information! This is one of those times. Did you know that, in addition to the millions of other local posts into which we must vote our neighbors, there exists a Precinct Committeeman and Precinct Committeewoman (heretofore referred to as “Committeepeople”) in each of our local voting precincts? And their job is, basically, to drum up excitement and mirth for, of all things, voting?! I can safely say (I think) that we people of the public library hold only books and attendant forms of media closer to our hearts than joyful and informed voting.
After learning about the existence of Precinct Committeepeople, I still wasn’t clear on what they actually get up to. So I emailed the County Clerk’s office to ask some questions, and I contacted a bunch of people who already filed to become Precinct Committeepeople in this election. (You can see the lists on the County Clerk’s website here. Precinct Committeepeople are elected in the primary election, because both parties get two representatives for a total of four Committeepeople per precinct.) I asked both experienced Committeepeople and newcomers about their role and responsibilities, as well as how they learned about the exciting chance to become the voting enthusiast of their community (“Voting Enthusiasts” might garner more attention than “Committeepeople”... just saying, world). Here’s what they told me.
First of all, they’re not just Voting Enthusiasts. A Precinct Committeeperson who wished to remain anonymous told me they elect party leadership at the county level, county leaders go on to elect state leadership, until eventually our local Precinct Committeepeople have an impact on the delegates sent to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. They also fill positions when an elected official retires prematurely, as in the recent case of Douglas County Sheriff Ken McGovern. And because serving as a Committeeperson allows for elbow-rubbing with local officials and candidates, it can be a good entry point into local politics.
Other Precinct Committeepeople emphasized the “get out the vote” responsibilities of the position. Haskell Springer, the Committeeman of Precinct 12, described contacting voters in support of local party candidates as a central part of the job. This week, Springer told me, he called 150 voters who hadn’t yet requested their mail-in ballots. He also said, “Being a committee chairperson is no big deal, but it's something I can do for the greater good---at least that's how I see it.” The way I see it, calling 150 voters does not equate with no big deal! Clearly we’ve got some unsung heroes gracing the streets of Lawrence, Committeeman Springer among them.
Like Springer, Jennifer Scotten of Precinct 77.1 sees the value of organizing at the local level. An enrolled member of the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma and longtime Lawrence resident, she founded the social media campaign Natives Vote in order to register her neighbors, inform them about local issues, and encourage them to engage civically in the community. When Scotten learned about the Precinct Committeepeople, she saw it as the perfect opportunity to continue the work of Natives Vote. She told me, “The PCP position included all of the things I was already doing or hoped to do with Natives Vote, just on a larger scale, and with access to data on voters in my area and the support of the party.” She has since rallied a number of women she respects and admires to become write-in candidates for their Precincts in the upcoming election, proving yet again… we share these streets with tireless, politically-oriented angels.
So there you have it: one of your neighbors might be a Voting Enthusiast. Don’t be confused if they come knocking at your door (or, more likely, if they call your phone). They’re just making sure you can vote while they keep the local parties’ wheels turning and the local government functioning as it should.
Want to learn more about local politics? Check out the library’s 2020 Elections and Voting page, browse the books around 324.6097 (another win for shelf-reading), or contact your local Precinct Committeeperson! Give the library a call if you need help figuring out who they are. You might even find your local position is empty, in which case... there’s no better time to begin your work as Voting Enthusiast!
-Hazlett Henderson is an Informative Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.