This, Democracy?

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Where’s the Carter Center when you need them?  

For anyone interested in a follow up to my last post anticipating Tuesday’s Texas caucus, here’s a thumbnail sketch of how it went down:

1.   No-one knew the rules.   We were first told by someone who seemed to have authority (we weren’t sure who they were exactly) that doors would shut once caucusing began, and no-one could leave until the night was over.   Of course dozens of voters immediately bolted for the door until a woman from the Clinton campaign told us that was incorrect, we could leave and come back.   Caucus organizers asked us to “be patient while [they] figure out the rule.”   The problem: No-one had a copy of the caucus rules, save for one savvy lawyer who showed up as a citizen, not as a caucus organizer.   She had the printed rules.  

2.   Towing cars.   About 2 hours in, a police officer went on stage to announce they were about to start towing cars.   Dozens more bolted for the door – voters who showed up at   7:15 ready to caucus, not knowing that the streets were unavailable for parking.    Some came back, but then were told by one presumptive organizer that they couldn’t vote because they left the room, but by another that they could because they “signed-in” at 7:15.   But no-one “signed-in” at 7:15.   You just showed up.   We’re we supposed to sign in?   See problem #1.

3.   Caucus Rosters:   There were not enough voting rosters to sign.   I saw one, on a clip board being passed around to voters in the auditorium seating areas.   It had an official control number, bolded in red, which I assume was used to keep track of the number of rosters distributed.   That is, if 10 rosters are distributed, I assume you want 10 rosters back.   You can’t tally the vote if you’ve only got 8 because that means 2 are still floating around.   Yes, I said floating around.   We ran out of rosters, so an Obama organizer pulled out a yellow legal pad, drew a series of improvised columns and rows, and told us to vote on that.    “Yellow legal pad”, I asked.   No control number?   How many of these are being distributed?   How many would they get back?   Are the Obama people supposed to be collecting signatures?   The Clinton people were collecting votes in the precinct seated next to us.   Doesn’t seem right . . but   . . . ok . . . I guess.   Is that right?

3.   Proof of Primary Participation.   We were first told we needed to present our voter registration card to caucus.   Then we were told to present our receipt from voting in the primary.   Then we were told that if we didn’t have either of those we couldn’t vote.   But wait, the Clinton woman told us we could vote.   That they’d asterisk our name and check it against the primary voter list.   Is that right?   More people left.   Did they even have a primary voter list?        

4.   Allocating delegates.   Fifteen delegates were allocated to precinct 189, my precinct in Oak Forest.   Delegates are allocated proportionally according to the “votes” that are “tallied” for each candidate.   But there was a problem with the allocation because the precinct chair kept coming up with 1 delegate for Clinton and 1 for Obama, after apparently dividing the number of “voters” by the number of “votes,” and doing that for each candidate.   I’m no math whiz, but X divided by X is 1 no matter how many candidates are running.   Someone apparently stepped in to explain the concept of proportional delegation because at the end of the night we were told that Clinton received 9 and Obama received 6 delegates.   Who knows.

I asked my Con Law students on Wednesday to report their experiences and they all had similar tales to tell.   One of my students was even elected a delegate chair because, as he put it, “I guess everyone thought I was qualified because I’m in law school.”   They didn’t have enough voting rosters either, so he pulled out his draft legal research and writing brief, and created a roster on the back of the pages.   Good effort, friend.   Its not your fault.

Sometimes we laugh instead of cry in the midst of chaos and uncertainty, and there were moments of spontaneous laughter at the chaos that was the caucus on Tuesday night.    And I suppose on one level the absurdity would still be funny, that is, if we weren’t TRYING TO ELECT A PRESIDENT!!

-Kathleen A. Bergin


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0 Responses to This, Democracy?

  1. shailey g says:

    Similarly such debauchery ensued at my polling/caucusing location.

    It was surprising how long it took to get something relatively simple done. With that said I am a delegate to the Senatorial Convention & Delegate Chair, I guess since I took charge?

  2. wasabi says:

    Here’s my story from the caucus. I live in SW Austin and we vote at our local middle school. In 2000 we had 5 people caucus. In 2004 we had 18 people caucus. Tuesday we had 291 people caucus.
    Starting in the morning i went to the school office to inquire if we could have the cafeteria for our caucus meeting. The staff said they didn’t even know if the caucus was to be held there. I said it most certainly was. I explained that last time we met in the library and didn’t think all the people expected to attend would be able to fit in there. They told me to go ask the election judge sitting outside the office by the voting booths. He had no idea about the caucus. After a few more hours I returned to the school office and told them that we REALLY will need the cafeteria and they said that they needed to call the head AISD office to see if we could do that. I mentioned that there would probably need to be a janitor available to keep the building open and make sure we had proper access to a room that would have sufficient capacity. Eventually they got the message.
    Our packet was picked up by our precint chair at 7:15. Inside were 3 pages available for writing down attendees, enough for 36 people to vote. Luckily, surrogates from both campaigns had made extra copies of the sign in sheets, so we did have enough for everyone to sign in. We elected a caucus chair then sorted ourselves out into three lines. One for Clinton voters, one for Obama voters and one for people who didn’t bring the proper paperwork and needed to be checked against the voter rolls to make sure they voted democratic in this election. We finished logging everyone in by 8:45. There was no control on the voter sheets. They weren’t marked 1 of “x”, 2 of “x” as we went along so there could have been sheets that were misplaced along the way. I don’t think this happened, but it could have. It was run on the honor system.
    About a third of the people left after everyone logged in. From the 200 people left we had to vote for 40 delegates and 40 alternates split between the two camps. My candidate won 18 of the 40 delegates. The rules are that everyone for my candidate got 18 votes. You could give all the votes to yourself or you could split up your votes among various people. Obviously with about 100 people attending and everyone getting 18 votes each this was going to be a nightmare to figure out. We decided to create a list of people that really wanted to be delegates to the county caucus and those who wanted to be alternates. So we had to find 36 people to want to commit to a Saturday convention. We ended up having 23 people who wanted to be delegates and then we asked for volunteers of those 23 to be demoted to an alternate delegate. 5 people volunteered so we had our delegates and alternates selected. At this time it was about 9:15 and most of the people left. There were about 40 people remaining.
    Then we voted on one precinct chair to be in charge of our precinct at the county convention. The Obama people voted for the Obama volunteer and the Clinton people voted for the Clinton volunteer. There were more Clinton people remaining, so that person won. Another 20 people left.
    The last thing we had to do was go through all the propositions in our packet. There were about 50 of them. They covered a range of topics: anti stem cell, backdoor anti-abortion positions, green energy, anti-war, transportation, minimum wage, living wage, open govt, pro nuclear, anti superdelegates, etc. By the time the last one was voted on we were down to 8 people voting and it was 11PM. And the janitor was dutifully waiting for us to leave so that he could finally go home.

  3. wasabi says:

    Lots of rule breaking occurred from what I am reading. Sign-in sheets could not be passed around especially if there was no control over the number passed out and returned. Everyone needed to present their document for eligibility to caucus to sign the sheets. If they didn’t have one, then they would be checked against the voter rolls, and if they voted, then they would be allowed to be added to the caucus vote.
    The method you used would allow anyone who voted to be added to the caucus (by a friend or relative), but the rules are they must be present to caucus. This was one of the notices sent out by the Democratic Party chair prior to the caucus chastizing the Obama campaign for collecting signatures of voters prior to the caucus. The Chair stated that those lists needed to be invalidated. No signatures were to be gathered prior to 7:15. If they were allowed to pass the sheets around in the caucus w/o someone verifiying eligibility at that time, anybodies name could be added. Simply verifying they were on the list of having voted in the election at a later time, means any number of non-present voters were counted in the caucus.
    Although Texas has been having caucus’s for the past 20 years, the number of attendees is usually under 10, and when there are 100’s in attendance with very partisan participants it’s not a good situation for having confidence in the results.

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