Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Political Party Slating System

Since the slating process has already burbled to the top here, lets lay out what that process is and how it differs from how folks get on the ballot in other areas of the state and country.

I readily admit that I know only snippets of the process of slating candidates for election here in Marion County and nothing about how it is done elsewhere. So, please step in and feel free to correct any errors you see in what I think I know, and add information about how the rest of the state does it and how common Marion County's system is. Plus, any other comments you'd like to make, of course.

For purposes of full disclosure -- let me say that I am a precinct committeewoman in the Democratic Party here in Decatur Township. For me that means a really long day twice a year, 3 out of 4 years, working with a great crew of Democrats and Republicans to ensure that our residents get a fair and honest chance to elect the person they find best on the ballot. It also has afforded me some view of the slating process from the cheap seats.

Here are my ABC's of slating. Please correct as needed.

In order to win election to office, you must win among all candidates listed on the ballot for that office in the General Election (the one held in the fall). In order to get your name on the General Election ballot you must first secure the nomination of the political Party of you choice. For Democrats and Republicans this means winning the Primary Election (the one held in the spring) while the Libertarians typically appoint folks to run in the General Election. We'll talk about the Independent candidates at another time.

When a candidate wants to put their name on the ballot for a Primary Election, they sign up with the Marion County Election Board. If they want the endorsement of their County Party, they must also submit their name to the County Party Office. I don't know if that also entails a meeting with the Party Chairman or not. Plus, they must pass some money, called a slating fee, to the County Party - for some reason I think that amounts to 1/4 of the compensation you would get if you were actually elected to the post you seek. For Democrats, you must sign a statement saying that should you not get the 'coveted' slated spot, you will either withdraw your name from the primary ballot or lose the 'donation' you just made to the party. Should you withdraw your name, that money would be returned to you.

Again, should you win the slating contest in the Democratic party, your 'donation' gets you the 'coveted' title of 'slated candidate' and your picture and name on the literature handed out at the polling place on election day in the spring and again in the fall. I have heard that the Republican party also throws in yard signs.

The slating convention has some speeches and then the precinct committee and vice-precinct committee people as well as the ward chairs all vote. They only get to vote for offices that would appear on the ballot in their precinct, not necessarily all offices. The choice of candidates on the slating ballot are only those who paid the slating fee, not necessarily all those who signed up with the Election Board to be on the ballot. The voting is done on the same voting machines used in the primary and general elections and is overseen by a representative of the County Election Board. I certainly hope that the costs are borne by the parties, and not the taxpayers -- but I do not know for sure.

The persons with the highest votes at the slating convention are the ones who are 'slated'. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO WIN SLATING to appear on the Primary ballot. Inclusion on the ballot is secured simply by filling out the proper paperwork for the Marion County Election Board.

That ends my understand, so please add to this so that we are all on the same page with the facts.

Tomorrow I'll plow into what I find wrong about the slating process and how slating itself diminishes democracy.

Lets talk.


Paul K. Ogden said...

Slating is an process by which party workers endorse candidates prior to the primary. It is a system you will find virtually no place else in the United States, except for Marion County, Indiana. In most of the rest of the country, the party workers are free to support whoever they want in the primary and the formal organization takes a hands off approach.

You do not have to get slated to run in the party primary. Getting slated gives you the endorsement of the party organization which may mean something depending on how strong the party organization is and the intrest level in your race.

In 2007, the Republicans slated four candidates for Council at-large, but the party leaders only wanted the limited resources of the GOP put behind one of them. The belief was that the Republicans would have a better chance just concentrating their efforts on getting one person elected in a county that has become strongly Democratic. Of course Peterson's last minute tax increases changed, the equation, causing the GOP to elect 3 people, including, ironically, one person who ran (Barb Malone) who was not slated.

The idea behind slating is that those elected PCs or those appointed PCs who actually work for their party will be rewarded for their efforts by playing a major role in selecting the candidates during slating. (Ward Chairman are also given a vote.)

On paper it sounds like a good idea. In practice though what happens is that at any given time, there are scores and scores of organization vacancies in political party organizations. Some county chairman deliberately leave the positions open. Then, right before slating, they appoint a bunch of "mummy dummy" PCs whose only "job" is to go to slating and vote the way the party leaders want them to vote. After election they resign their position or are removed.

I've seen occsions when these "mummy dummies" voting in Marion County slating conventions are from other counties, even other states. There is no requirement in the law that the appointed PCs be from the neighborhood they purport to represent at slaing.

As far as the cost of slating, as I recall you have to pay 20% of your projected salary and you get 80% of that back if you're not slated. I could be wrong on the numbers.

In short, while it looks like a fair system to the PCs that give them a reason to be involved knocking on doors, working elections, etc, what they're not being told is that, while they get to vote at slating, they're going to also be mummy dummies at the convention who are going to outvote youd, doing the wishes of party leadership.

Karl said...

Slating is also used in Virginia.