Views from Kansas: Kansans, serve as precinct leaders

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

Kansas’ recent elections will lead to additional contests among new candidates.

With three state senators elected to statewide offices — Democratic Gov.-elect Laura Kelly, of Topeka, and Lieutenant Gov.-elect Lynn Rogers, of Wichita, and Republican Insurance Commissioner-elect Vicki Schmidt, of Topeka — small groups will choose the replacements to finish their terms.

The often-overlooked precinct committees charged with that responsibility consist of citizens elected to represent their neighborhoods and political parties. In addition to filling vacancies when necessary, precinct committees also influence the direction of their party, and work to encourage more people to register and vote.

As intriguing as it all may sound, few people choose to run for the critical precinct committee positions. It means that, theoretically, mere dozens of people — not thousands as in a regular election — may be involved in filling each open Kansas Senate seat, and other elected positions that may come open due to resignation or another reason.

Kansas has more than 7,000 precinct seats per party, but many aren’t filled. Precincts have two seats per political party — one for a man, and one for a woman.

A few years ago, The Topeka Capital-Journal conducted a study of Kansas’ precinct system in all 105 counties, which showed about half of the Republican precinct seats open, and more than 80 percent of Democrat seats vacant. Unfortunately, the public rarely hears about the positions until an elected official must be replaced.

As for the numerous precinct committee openings, a lack of understanding of the process and apathy are partly to blame. Peer pressure may keep some from stepping up because their beliefs about issues may not align with the majority.

Some people also feel alienated by both parties, an understandable sentiment considering hyper-partisanship that’s hindered policymaking in the nation’s capital in particular.

Of those who do identify with a party, precinct committees offer a unique opportunity to engage. As political leanings come into play on the precinct committees for Republicans and Democrats, it’s best to have diversity in viewpoints and decision-making.

Grassroots participation improves our democracy, but numerous vacant precinct committee positions don’t help the process.

Precinct committee races occur during primary elections in even-numbered years (next in 2020). More Kansans should consider serving in such a meaningful way.

— Originally published in The Topeka Capital-Journal


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