Do you want to have a say on major decisions in the Democratic or Republican Party, like who becomes the party chair, or who gets endorsed by the party for mayor or Governor, or what should be the party’s platform priorities?  A great way to do that is to become a county committee member. And now is the time to do it.

Two recent news announcements highlight how important the role of local county committee members ---the neighborhood representatives of the two major political parties--can be. And for New Jersey residents this year’s primary election offers the perfect time to run for a county committee seat if your party’s county seats are up for election.

Middlesex County Democratic Organization Chairman Joseph Spicuzzo recently stepped down as party chair, setting the course for a major power shift in the party leadership.  The decision of who takes the reins of the county party will rest on the shoulders of those who hold a county committee seat.  Those who serve on the Middlesex county committee will have a vote in who becomes Chair of one of the most powerful county committees in the State.

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The other big news in party politics was the admission of the independent redistricting commission member that a low priority will be placed on making legislative districts more competitive. New Jersey residents are likely facing another ten years of non-competitive legislative elections--which actually increases the importance of county committee people.   

The status quo, where there are only a handful of districts with competitive general elections, is likely to continue.  As a result the party endorsement vote and primary elections, two places where committeepeople can play a large role, become even more important. In many cases, the committee people determine the outcome in these competitions. 

Given this fact, it will be all the more important for citizens to get off the sidelines and step up to the plate if they want to see quality representation in the legislature. 

The great thing about serving on the county committee is that it does not require a large investment of time, and provides a large measure of control of who represents us in Trenton. In addition to electing the county party chair and awarding the party line for Senate and Assembly seats along with local offices, the county committee members participate in filling vacancies in office when someone resigns in disgrace, retires, or passes away. Shockingly, more than a third of the legislature has entered office by way of a vote of the county committee, not the general public. 

County Committee people who leverage their power well can also influence key appointments to boards and commissions within their town and county and have the ear of the elected officials on issues of importance to them, whether at the town or county level.

So if you’re ready to do something, here are some basic tips for running for county committee. 1) Find out from your municipal clerk which political party committee seats are up for election this year; 2) Complete the Party Declaration Form (Democratic or Republican Party) for the County Committee you wish to run for; 2) Get a petition & required number of signatures from the municipal clerk (in most cases no more than 10 signatures needed); 3) File the petition with your town clerk by April 11th; 4) Show up on June 7th with your family and friends and vote for yourself (most seats are won with just a few dozen votes or less).

Visit www.TheCitizensCampaign.com and take our free, half-hour online class and learn the tips and tools to become a successful neighborhood party leader.  

Alysia Welch-Chester, a volunteer with The Citizens Campaign, took the “Path to Political Party Power” class, and on a whim, ran for a neighborhood party seat and won. Just a few years later Alysia now serves as the Party Chair of her city.

Once elected, you have the power to adopt or amend your party constitution, create your party platform, and seek the chairmanship of your county party. The Citizens Campaign’s Party Democracy Act, adopted in 2009, guarantees you these rights. The bottom line is, if you want to gain these powers, then you need to take this opportunity to step up to the plate.