Do you routinely check the news, listen to talk radio, or complain about the state of the country today?
If so, have you thought about putting your smartphone down, turning off the TV, and getting off the couch to do something about it?
Even if you haven’t, this article on how to get involved in politics might interest you.
It can be difficult to find information about where to go or who to contact about how to get involved in politics.
When I searched for how to get involved in politics all that came up were a few national articles written by journalists that aren’t involved in politics.
They repeated topics like look at local politics, local government, attend school board meetings, attend town hall meetings, register to vote, register voters, donate money, canvass for a candidate, get out and vote, and so on.
Local elections, voter registration, money, volunteering on a campaign, and running for office are all important, but what if you just want to be politically active?
Since you’re retired and have time on your hands, this article will look at how political parties are generally organized in the United States.
And most importantly, describe how to get involved in politics in your community without running for city council or congress.
In the United States, the individual states are responsible for elections. Makes sense, since people actually live in states.
But don’t just take my word for it. Many politicians, including former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, have boiled that sentiment down to “all politics is local.”
The other point of American elections that’s important to know upfront, is that voting for a specific candidate instead of a party differs from many Western democracies. But that’s OK since we’re actually a Republic.
This allows candidates to self-nominate with a minimal party qualification, and for voters to pick their favorite candidate.
Directly voting for a candidate places a great deal of responsibility on the individual voter. This is especially true of down-ballot races that don’t have advertising budgets.
Unfortunately, a significant proportion of registered voters rely on commercials and other campaign materials to make their decisions.
That’s largely because it’s difficult to find unbiased information on candidates and their actual positions on the issues.
Worse, in races where voters don’t recognize any names, variables related to ballot position, length of the name, pronounceability, gender, and so on are present.
That means down-ballot races are often decided by chance.
Wow, if you were on the fence about getting involved, you should at least be leaning towards taking the first step towards political involvement by finishing this article.
General Party Organization
The two major parties in the United States are organized at the national, state, and county levels.
States may look different, especially at the county level. But these are the three levels where you can have sustained involvement.
National delegations are filled by elected state party officials and led by the state party chair.
Party elections can be internal to the party, or on the party’s primary ballot.
When you receive your ballot, it can have names for county executive committee, state executive committee, delegates, or other party positions.
For the voter, it can be difficult to keep up with who’s who on a two-page list of names you’ve never seen before.
If people leave the party office during the term, they’re normally filled for the remainder of the term by appointment or internal party vote depending on party bylaws.
How To Get Involved in Politics
That section on political organization may have been boring, but it’s important to know as you research getting involved.
The county party is the first place to look if you decided to get off the couch.
By look, I mean search for your county, state, and party of choice in your web browser.
When you get to the website of the county party click around. Try not to get angry since the websites are normally built and maintained by volunteers.
The first thing you’re looking for is clubs. Most counties have some sort of club participation available. I’m from a large county, so we have quite a few clubs.
These social clubs are normally during a mealtime and host invited political speakers.
They’re a great way to get to know people that are also interested in politics. You’ll meet elected officials and candidates and hear what each candidate actually says.
The best part is you don’t have to run for a party seat. You can normally just show up the first time and participate. If the club serves food, they’ll probably ask you to RSVP in the future so they know how much food to prepare.
County or State Executive Committee
These are normally elected positions based on geographical and at-large designations.
There’s a formula that my friend Elbert would happily share with you, but suffice to say the number of party positions changes every four years based on presidential voting.
Some positions are hard to fill while others are highly contested. County executive committee members generally attend monthly meetings, vote on party issues, and serve on subcommittees.
State executive committee members might attend monthly district meetings, semiannual state meetings, vote on party issues, and serve on subcommittees.
This is a large body compared to county committees, so there might be a smaller state steering committee that meets regularly. This body is normally headed by the state party chair.
Running for Party Office
Clubs are the conduit to the political parties.
If you attend and get inspired to run for a party seat at the county or state level, just ask an established club member to help you decipher the important dates and requirements.
Normally, several months before a party primary there’ll be a party qualification. Candidates for political and party offices need to fill out a form and pay a small qualification fee to be on the ballot.
Don’t worry if you’re new, the voters don’t know the party officials. However, if your name begins with an A and your state uses alphabetical order for ballots, you have a better than average chance of winning.
If your state uses a random or lot method to decide ballot order, you still have an average chance to win. Don’t be intimidated by the unknown process, just put yourself out there.
You don’t have to campaign for these party seats unless you want to, so give it a shot if you’re interested.
What Does a Political Party Do?
In short, they have meetings. Lots and lots of meetings.
It’s important to note that you don’t have to be elected to attend most meetings and actively participate at the club or subcommittee level.
During election cycles, the parties have an active role in candidate qualification. That means they make sure candidates are actually aligned with the party they claim.
This has to do with ballot access. The Republican and Democrat parties have ballot access in the United States. Candidates that win party caucuses or primaries are placed on the general election ballot.
If a candidate wants to run as an independent or third-party candidate, they need a required number of signatures to appear on the general election ballot. Party qualification is a big deal.
During periods between elections, there’s voter outreach and education, fundraising, candidate recruitment, and a myriad of party business.
There are volunteer opportunities on subcommittees, to support events, man party headquarters, and so on. Once you get involved you can participate as much or as little as you want.
The best part is the people. You’ll make a lot of new friends, get to know elected officials, meet candidates, and generally have a say in politics beyond your single vote.
Volunteering on a Campaign
If you’re interested in campaigns, I still recommend joining a club.
You can volunteer through a candidate’s webpage. Although you’ll have a better chance of knowing fellow campaign workers and volunteers from the start if you’re part of a club.
Money is an important part of every campaign. But do you simply want to donate or are you interested in being a part of a candidate’s fundraising committee?
Voter contact through digital, door, and phone is also important. If you attend training, you’ll learn that three contacts during the campaign cycle is the minimum goal.
But, if you’re a retiree, social media might not be your preferred contact method. However, if it is, good for you!
How to Get Involved in Political Campaigns?
But what about knocking on doors and talking to people about your candidate? Door knocking is physically demanding, so make sure you’re ready and able if you decide this is how you want to volunteer.
If not, making phone calls might be an option. You don’t need to go to a phone bank anymore. There are apps for your smartphone that allow you to make campaign calls from the comfort of your own home.
Maybe you just want to energize your network. You can send letters to your friends and ask them to support your candidate and contact ten of their friends by letter or email.
These contacts are more personal since they come from a friend.
If you want to build on the letter effort, coordinate with the campaign to hand out yard signs. Your friends are more likely to put out a yard sign if you ask them and immediately give them a sign.
Or maybe your candidate has a headquarters. Do you have the time to manage a headquarters? If not, can you volunteer a few hours a day or week to man the front desk and help with other tasks?
If you’re interested in taking campaign training ahead of time, I recommend the Leadership Institute.
They have a lot of courses. But if you want to learn everything there is to know about running a campaign, I recommend their campaign management school.
Don’t worry, you can take it online if you don’t want to travel.
I would be remiss and probably hear about it from my friend Frank if I didn’t mention poll worker opportunities.
The next time you vote, look at the poll workers. You’ll probably see at least a few retirees just like you.
Poll workers, like my friends Sue and Jim, do the heavy election lifting for our Republic.
They attend trainings, set up and break down polling stations, verify voters, distribute and collect ballots, watch for irregularities, and submit results on election day.
This is hard work.
So, what do you do if you’re concerned about voter suppression, fraud, or other voting integrity issues?
The best thing to do to ensure voting security is volunteer as a poll worker.
Most likely, you didn’t learn about how to get involved in politics in civics or political science class.
Very few people in the United States actually understand what goes on behind the scenes in politics.
It takes a village of volunteers just to prepare parties, candidates, and polling stations for voters to vote.
So, if you’re still interested in how to get involved in politics now that you have the time, you just learned where to start.