Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Texas Democratic Primary and Caucus (Part II: Explaining the Process)

Because the Democratic presidential delegates are selected by both a primary and a caucus held on the same night, it is known as the Texas Two-Step. For more information on the Texas Democratic Presidential Delegate System, click here (yes, this is a link to a serious explanation). Perhaps this diagram will help clarify the process:

Texas Democratic Presidential Primary & Caucus (My Experience)

This was first posted on Freethought Forum.

This is the first time in a long time that the Texas Democratic presidential primary meant anything. They planned the primary polling places under the assumption that things would be decided on Super Tuesday; i.e., they assumed a minimal turnout like the last several primaries. Oops. They were simply unprepared for the volume of people that showed up. They didn't have enough people, and the ones trying to run things were stretched to their limit by a process they weren't very familiar with.

The polls opened at 7 am; I got there about ten minutes before and they actually opened about five minutes late because they didn't have their act together. There were four precincts and both parties voting at that polling place, I was the first to vote in my precinct (Obama). By the time I was done, the line was out the door.

I went back at 7 pm for the caucus- as much because I wanted to see what was going on as anything else. I was surprised by the number of cars parked in the street. When I realized they were there for the caucus, I found a spot and parked; I figured it would be useless trying to get in close.

The caucus was supposed to begin at 7:15, 15 minutes after the polls closed. Apparently Texas law (or Democratic Party rule) states that the caucus cannot begin while voting is still going on. When I got there, there were still people waiting outside to vote. They cut off the line at 7, but it took a while to burn the line down. At that point there were four very long lines (one of for each precinct) wrapping around the church that was being used for the voting. My estimate was that there were about 1000 people there.

We stood out in the 40-degree weather for about an hour before we got in. We filled out a log with our name, address, voter ID number and a place to write in our caucus choice. Then we waited for the caucus to actually start, mostly in the sanctuary of the church which was totally full and overflowing into the corridors. It was at least another hour before we started... at about 9:00 or 9:30.

While many people were frustrated or bored by the waiting, the overall mood was festive- WOW! Look at all the Texas Democrats!

Then they tried to organize the caucuses. They directed one precinct to go to a large classroom in the one wing of the building, and asked two precincts (including my own) to go to the fellowship hall- one precinct at each end. The fourth precinct stayed in the sancturary.

I used to belong to this church and as I recall, the hall was sized for about 100-150 people (seated at tables)... not a huge room. There were 220 people in our precinct that caucused. The precinct at the other end ran into problems- two-plus hours after polls had closed, the Republican Party primary people were still cleaning up and getting mighty testy about the Dems invading their space. (Two hours after the polls closed people... MOVE IT!)

Add on top of it all that people were trickling in the whole time and no one knew who was supposed to be where. I'm tall and have a loud voice, and I was still wearing my work clothes, so people thought I knew something and kept asking me questions. So I figured out which precinct was in which location so I could direct them to where they needed to be. The place was pretty chaotic.

Things finally settled down. The precinct at the other end of the fellowship hall started before we did, and once we started, the leaders were not only trying to shout over each other and the assembled crowds, they also had to battle the P.A. system being used in the sanctuary (which was conveniently piped into the fellowship hall at full volume).

They formally opened the caucus and stated they were counting the forms we filled out earlier to figure out how to apportion the delegates. The total was 181 for Obama, 39 for Hillary (the crowd was overwhelmingly Black). Our precinct had to select 22 delegates in caucus, but in all the confusion people had a hard time figuring out that with 220 votes being represented by 22 delegates, each 10 votes would produce a delegate. (Duh.) So 181 Obama votes and 39 Hillary votes should result in 18 delegates for Obama and 4 for Hillary. I tried to explain it to the crowd once but they were still bewildered (it had been a looooooong day). It was made worse in that, out of 22 people selected to be delegates, only 2 actually voted for Hillary. There were some questions about the rules, and when those in charge tried to look through the rule book, they were having trouble trying to find out exactly how to calculate the delegates.

I gave up and decided to let the people in charge handle it. In the end I think it will be fine; one of the people selected as a delegate is a professor of political science at the local college.

I mentioned earlier the festive atmosphere. It was a kind of a coming-out party for the Black community. They were heavily represented at the caucus (a big majority) followed by a small proportion of whites (of which I was the only one willing to admit I voted for Obama) and Hispanics, and a few Asians, Middle-easterners, etc.

The overall effect was, in my opinion, the Black community at their finest. They took pride in having a Black candidate and really, really seemed eager to take an active part in the process. As part of the delegate selection process, each delegate introduced him- or herself and made a brief statement as to why they wanted to be a delegate. Really- it was inspiring and I felt a hope for our country I haven't felt in a long time.

One guy there who kept asking me questions was an older Middle-eastern gentleman who introduced himself to me as Ali. Since I was just as clueless as he was, my usual reply was, "I'm not sure, we are learning together." Then as things happened, I explained them as best I could. Toward the end of the night he had one last question- he told me his son had dropped him off and wanted to know if I would give him a ride home. I said, "Sure!" I dropped off Ali a few minutes ago and now I'm writing this.