A small group recently elected a new Shawnee County sheriff.
Ordinarily, candidates for sheriff, state legislator and other elected positions must earn the support of far more voters. But when there’s an unexpected vacancy — as happened when then-Shawnee County Sheriff Herman Jones became head of the Kansas Highway Patrol — the party of the current office-holder must turn to its precinct committee to select a successor.
People elected to precinct committees fill elected offices when necessary, and become voices in steering their political parties.
Precincts in Kansas have two seats per political party — one for a man, and one for a woman — and are an opportunity for citizens to represent their neighborhoods. Committeemen and committeewomen work to encourage more people to register and vote, and also gather to discuss various candidates running for office.
Races for precinct committee seats are among the lesser-known contests, though, with competition for those seats during primary elections in even-numbered years. Even though precinct committees are called on when there’s a vacancy to address — and have the responsibility of guiding their party — not all committee seats are filled statewide, which often lets smaller-than-intended groups make important decisions.
Unfortunately, too few people understand the role of precinct committees. The public rarely hears about the positions until an elected official must be replaced due to resignation or other reason, and precinct committeemen and committeewomen choose their successors.
For example, the Democratic Party in Gov. Laura Kelly’s former Senate district chose Vic Miller to fill her unexpired term. Likewise, Eric Rucker was selected by the Republican Party in the Senate district previously represented by current Insurance Commissioner Vicki Schmidt.
And more recently, the Shawnee County Republican Party elected retired Topeka police detective Brian Hill to become sheriff. He won with 101 out of 197 votes — a total that hardly reflected the county electorate as a whole.
That said, Hill’s atypical path to the office doesn’t diminish his potential or ability to serve. He also would be subject to the usual election process should he decided to run once the term he’s completing ends.
The election was, however, another reminder of the need for more people to recognize the grass-roots impact of precinct committee positions, and consider serving in such a meaningful way.
This article was originally published on The Topeka Capital-Journal website, here.
Paid for by The Senate Democrats Committee, Kerry Gooch, Treasurer.