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