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Why Precinct Chairs Fail? . . And how to avoid that

Heather Buen, MBA
Feb 15, 2019 · 7 min read
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At a recent Democratic event that I had the opportunity to host, someone came up to me to fill me in on a special number. That number was the amount of Democratic precinct chairs and organizers in the county in comparison to the Republican party’s number of precinct chairs. On paper it had looked like we had finally beaten them at something. On paper it looked like we had 1 more precinct organizer than they had. Something that hadn’t been accomplished in years.

While I would love to think this was truly a success story, as a House District Organizer, I know that is not the case. I have become familiar with organizing volunteers and the challenge in keeping them motivated. We have families, careers, challenges and a many other priorities competing for our attention. If an organizer or a precinct chair fails to plan they will fail at organizing their Democratic voters. We are filled with vacant precincts and inactive precinct chairs and that is a surefire way to fail your precinct, fail your voters, and fail in electing Democratic candidates for office.

If you don’t like it when your elected representative doesn’t take a vote on a bill, doesn’t have a town hall, and never answers your call — then why do we think it is OK for a precinct chair to do the same thing?

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I will never say that I am perfect and I may have missed a CEC meeting or two throughout the years. Life is not perfect and things come up but when it begins to become a pattern or you have lost the desire to be a chair or a volunteer it is time to assess your commitments to serve. The path to 2020 is going to be riddled with many distractions and many competing interests. After coming so close in Texas House District 92, I want to make sure I have given it more than what I did in 2018 and I am hoping everyone has the same idea. That starts out with having a good plan.

A failure to plan as a precinct chair, is planning to fail.

Many inactive chairs are happy to be inactive. They think that nobody will notice and that it doesn’t really matter. I see many inactive chairs at Democratic club meetings or on social media. I have been trolled by my own inactive precinct chairs on social media. I have wasted way too much of my energy and time begging and pleading for them to participate.

We shouldn’t have to beg our Members of Congress, our state legislators or our local government officials to answer our calls — so why do we think it is OK for precinct chairs to not return ours?

We almost flipped this Texas House District in 2018 because a dedicated volunteer put in the work to knock one extra door, make that one extra phone call in a vacant precinct or a precinct that was chaired by an Inactive Precinct Chair. Our volunteers are being spread too thin, our precinct chairs are being tasked to take on additional vacant precincts. Stop the Excuses! If you can’t prioritize organizing your precinct and getting Democratic voters out to vote then you aren’t prioritizing your voters. You aren’t educating them to be engaged in the process — in short you are not upholding your resolve to simply ask them to vote.

The barriers to being an effective precinct chair

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Overcoming some of these common challenges can help you become a better precinct organizer.

Time — When being tasked to become a precinct chair or precinct organizer it can seem like it will take up a lot of time? This is something only you can control. I choose to spend more time than most others. Much of the invested time is in the beginning when you are forming your teams and getting to know the basics of organizing. After that you can develop a system to reach out to voters And manage the time. Our team can help you come up with an effective plan to manage your time across activities going on throughout the year. If you can’t make a CEC (County Executive Committee) meeting — let us know and we can keep everyone up to date. CEC meetings are important because that is where we discuss party business and where we vote on initiatives.

Training — The Tarrant County Democratic Party has a Precinct Leadership Committee that trains precinct chairs at a monthly precinct chair training. Those training take place the first Saturday of the month. You can learn more about that training by contacting the Precinct Leadership Committee. The Texas Democratic Party also has an online training platform for precinct chairs and volunteers. Our HD92 Precinct Leadership Team can also schedule one on one training with you to help you organize your precinct, learn how to blockwalk, make phone calls and use VAN.

Confidence — You may not think you know enough or have the confidence to speak or defend Democratic principles or messaging. Most of what we do is identify other Democrats and let them know their voice is being heard because we are here to listen to their personal stories. A successful precinct chair listens to what constituents have to say and brings those to the attention of the party and to Democratic officials and elected representatives. This helps give you knowledge about how the constituents in your area feel about issues. This can get you a lot more confident about what the constituents are thinking. The Texas Democratic Party has their platform online that you can become familiar with when you are talking to other Democratic voters.

Burnout — Volunteer burnout is real. Many times those volunteers that are steadily involved and familiar are often tasked to do things — many things. One of the causes of burnout can be the chairs’ or volunteers’ choice of taking on too much which can lead to poor self management, unrealistic expectations and lack of support and guidance from peers. To avoid burnout, connect back to purpose. Remember why you chose to volunteer or be a precinct chair in the first place. Understand the impact of why you are organizing.

So Why Do We Do this? — A Case Study

In the 2018 election, of the voters we made contact with — we had a 70% turnout rate. Those voters that did not get contacted turned out at a rate of 38%. One precinct in the House District out of a total of 45 precincts had a target of 397 voters. Based upon the earlier formula, that means a precinct chair will successfully reach 97 of those voters and of those 60 to 70 will turnout to vote. In this example, without a volunteer specifically asking these voters to vote, it is entirely possible that 40 to 50 people would not have bothered to vote at all. Keeping things in perspective helps to avoid the burnout. Let’s multiply those 40 or 50 voters by about 50 precincts in one House District and your individual efforts as part of the whole means that your efforts could garner an ADDITIONAL 2,000 voters to vote.

An extra 2,000 to 5,000 more voters above and beyond already voting Democrats would have helped Democrats secure wins in a handful of House District races, a Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 race and many others. That is why we need small efforts to make big gains.

Can a precinct chair be removed?

Yes. Texas Election Code State:

REMOVAL OF PRECINCT CHAIR OR COUNTY CHAIR FOR ABANDONMENT OF OFFICE. (a) A precinct or county chair who has failed to perform statutory duties provided by this code or failed to attend four or more consecutive meetings of the county executive committee may be removed for abandonment of office as provided by this section.

(b)  If authorized by a resolution passed by the county executive committee, a county chair may send a notice to a precinct chair that states that the precinct chair is considered to have abandoned the office of precinct chair and the duties of the office.  The notice must:(1)  state the reasons the county executive committee believes the precinct chair has abandoned the office;(2)  be sent by certified mail; and(3)  request a response from the precinct chair not later than the seventh day after the date the precinct chair receives the notice.

We hope you will serve out your full term as a Precinct Chair. However, some situations make it necessary to leave early, such as moving out of your precinct, losing your voting rights, or becoming an office holder or candidate. If so, please immediately provide a letter of resignation so the party can recruit a successor.

What you do as a precinct chair, a precinct organizer and volunteer is an important mission towards electing Democrats for the future of Texas and this country. This is something that needs to be given serious attention and care if you want to become a chair or organizer. Many precinct chairs have moved on to higher political office after becoming chairs. Whatever choice you make we hope it is one that comes with many opportunities to succeed.

Buen for Texas

Heather Buen, MBA

Written by

Tarrant County Democratic Party Leadership Committee | Mom | podcast enthusiast | Writer | Texan | #BlackLivesMatter | #egalitarian

Buen for Texas

A publication of my thoughts and opinions on progressive themes, commentary and stories within the political landscape of Tarrant County, Texas and Texas Democrats. Organizing and amplifying the message of Tarrant Democrats. Currently running for local SD9 Convention Chair.

Heather Buen, MBA

Written by

Tarrant County Democratic Party Leadership Committee | Mom | podcast enthusiast | Writer | Texan | #BlackLivesMatter | #egalitarian

Buen for Texas

A publication of my thoughts and opinions on progressive themes, commentary and stories within the political landscape of Tarrant County, Texas and Texas Democrats. Organizing and amplifying the message of Tarrant Democrats. Currently running for local SD9 Convention Chair.

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