As filing week is just around the corner, I thought it would be prudent to take a look at one of the least appreciated offices up for election this year, the office of a Precinct Committee Officer or “PCO”. In doing so, I found that the Republicans in Whatcom have done a fantastic job of recruiting PCOs, outnumbering the Democrats by more than 2-to-1. What does this mean? Read on, my friend.
What is a PCO?
The Precinct Committee Officers are the backbone of every local political party. They are elected by the public on the primary ballot as the official party representative from their precinct (usually a precinct is no larger than a small neighborhood or a small neighborhood’s worth of people out in the county).
These are unpaid positions but essential to the functions of local political parties. They elect party officers (chair, vice-chair, etc), vote on the platform and vote to endorse candidates. Informally, they serve as the grassroots volunteers, knocking on doors and making phone calls although campaign managers on both sides of the aisle will tell you how difficult it can be to coax a cantankerous PCO into a volunteer shift.
Each precinct can elect a Republican and a Democratic PCO, although often these volunteers come forward on off-years and are then appointed by the sitting chair of their respective party. Sometimes, there is not even an election because only one person filed for the office.
A Sea of Red
I went through and took a look at the PCO lists available on both parties websites to assess the current state before a fresh wave of PCOs file. The results were staggering. The Republicans have 132 PCOs serving, from precincts as diverse as the rural Lynden suburbs to the heart of Bellingham. The Democrats have only 68 PCOs, less than half of the Republicans. Even more shocking was the fact that 35 precincts in Whatcom have neither a Democratic nor Republican PCO - no one filed for either side.
Attached are the maps of my findings.
There are 75 Republican PCOs, 35 vacant precincts, 11 Democratic PCOs, 57 precincts with both
132 Republican PCOs total
68 Democratic PCOs total
What Does This Mean?
Does it mean that the Whatcom Republicans have a better connection with their grassroots? The mighty ground game that flipped the County Council democratic is strong evidence that filled PCO slots does not necessarily translate into grassroots support. Is it simply that Democratic voters, while passionate at the polls are disengaged from the day-to-day functions of their party? Perhaps. It is an interesting dimension and I welcome your own theories below.
A Call to Arms
No matter the electoral ramifications, this should be a clarion call to everyone who is frustrated with politics. Think your political leaders are too timid, too confrontational or just too incompetent? Run for PCO and kick them out. The levers of power, at least on the local level, are within your grasp. You can rewrite the party platform to include your favorite issue, you can propose resolutions to pressure local elected officials, you can work to deny incumbent endorsements or secure them for your favorite politicos.
In other words, it gives you an inside track on local politics. How do I know? I’m the official Democratic PCO from precinct 219 (“the fightin’ 219!”). Come join me in the trenches of improving our county.