Precinct Committeepersons – Oregon 2019 HB2491 Testimony

To: House Committee on Rules, Oregon Legislative Assembly

Re: Support for HB2491 with suggested amendment

HB2491 makes reasonable changes to how precinct committeepersons are elected to reduce election administration costs including:

  • Requiring write-in nomination filings up to poll closing time. 
  • Eliminating the sex requirement for precinctcommittee persons.

The measure also changes several references from “county clerk” to “county elections official” to reflect current titles.

Please recommend this measure for passage.

If you were to consider an amendment, I would suggest changing the word “electors” to “party members” in ORS 248.015(1).

As the Oregon Association of County Clerks has previously reported, more than half of precinct committeeperson positions are usually vacant. With automatic voter registration there are now over 2.7 million registered voters in Oregon. This currently results in around 11,000 precinct committeeperson positions for each major party statewide.

Malapportionment of precinct committeepersons by electors is contrary to the principle of one vote–one value, diluting the votes of many party members. With so many open positions, nearly all are self-appointed and almost none are contested.

Changing the apportionment of precinct committeepersons to party members would reduce the number of positions to about 3,900 for Democrats and 2,800 for Republicans. Apportioning by party members would make precinct representation within party organizations more accurately represent party membership in the electorate.

Removes Option to Elect Precinct Committeepersons – Oregon 2017 HB2571 Testimony

To: House Committee on Rules, Oregon Legislative Assembly

Re: HB2571 Removes option for major political parties to elect precinct committeepersons at primary election.

I support HB2571 with an amendment that requires counties to insert a flyer produced by each major county political party in the corresponding partisan primary ballots. It’s in the the public interest to encourage broadly-based participation in party organizations. Without any outreach to voters registered with a party, the party organizations could become controlled by insiders again as they were before the reforms of the early 20th Century.

The flyer could be used by parties as a call to convention or a call for PCPs. The current precinct committeeperson (PCP) elections provide outreach to some degree. Inserting a flyer could be a more effective way to encourage involvement in parties than PCP elections by reducing the current barrier to entry that filing for PCP positions in February creates. Parties would be free to innovate as to the best way to use the flyer and would be in competition with each to attract PCPs to help their respective parties.

Removing the option for major political parties to elect PCPs would be cost saving measure for counties. With more positions than candidates in most cases, PCP elections are much like a Cub Scouts pinewood derby where every kid gets a trophy. The cost to taxpayers of compiling the ballots and counting the results isn’t justified because the elections don’t provide a meaningful choice and aren’t competitive. In most cases, voting has not effect on the outcome.

In addition, the current apportionment of PCP positions based on electors along with at-large elections dilutes and debases the value of party member votes. Disproportionate influence is given to areas where a party membership is lowest. This may be contributing to the decline in major party membership seen in recent decades as fewer voters see their values and interests represented.

Please support HB2571 with the amendment proposed above.

Electing Precinct Committeepersons – Oregon 2017 SB211 Testimony

To: Senate Committee on Rules, Oregon Legislative Assembly

Re: SB211 Establishing Procedures for Electing Precinct Committeepersons.

Oregon precinct committeeperson elections function as volunteer recruiting campaigns for county political parties. With more positions than candidates in most cases, precinct committeepersons are elected without competition. Voters lack any meaningful choice or influence because voting can’t change the outcome. Rarely is a listed candidate not elected. Therefore, the method that Oregon uses to elect precinct committeepersons is substantially the same as a call to convention.

The proposed changes in SB211 don’t really alter the dynamics of precinct committeeperson elections. Reducing the number of precinct committeepersons will increase competition in a few precincts, but not all. The new rules on write-in candidates will likely reduce the number of precinct committeepersons.

Even when precinct committeeperson elections are competitive, several aspects dilute and debase the value of voting such as at-large elections and malapportionment. At-large elections bias results toward the dominate faction excluding minority interests. This may contribute to the decline in major party membership seen in recent decade as fewer voters see there values and interests represented. The seats are also apportioned by electors not party members. This gives the disproportionate influence to areas where a party membership is lowest. With the adoption of postal voting for all elections in Oregon, precincts are no longer relevant political units.

I recommend that the office of precinct committeeperson be eliminated to reduce the costs of administration and be replaced with a call to convention. A much lower cost, a one page flyer could be inserted into primary election ballots produced by the political parties calling registered party members to the county convention. This would likely result in more volunteers for political parties at much lower cost to taxpayers.