Monday, March 3, 2008

The Political Texas Two-Step

Texas has a very strange voting process. And, what really surprises me is that I had no idea we had this process! I'm guessing it's because we haven't had a really close race before.

For those who don't know, it's frequently called the Texas Two-Step. Voters go to the polls on March 4th - or they do the Early Voting. Then after all the voters have voted at 7 p.m., they can come in for the Caucus.

Normally, I like the idea of voting on the Big Day. It's always a little exciting to me. But this year, there's the chance of long lines at the polling booths. And, I, as usual, have a really packed day. Not a lot of time to spare waiting around. So, Michael and I ran over to Early Voting on Friday, when he got back from his classes.

Friday was the last day for Early Voting. At first, we went to the Assisted Living facility near our home. There was a note on the door telling us that they were no longer an official voting place. So we went to our second choice, the only other option in Pflugerville - the County Tax office. There were long lines. And they weaved all around the room in the most unorganized way. Doors were locked in an attempt to control the way the crowd entered. This was later remedied, but clearly they didn't expect this many people.

My son-in-law, Jay, was ahead of us in line, waving at us as we entered and tried to find the end of the line. This is his first time to vote - he became an American citizen just in time to register to vote.

So, we all cast our vote and put our little caucus cards into our wallets. These cards would show that we voted - a requirement to participate in the caucus.

Tuesday Night....
I went to my local voting precinct at 7 p.m. There were still people in line to vote, although the doors were locked to more voters. Only caucus voters were allowed to enter. The cafeteria was filling up. Ultimately, there were nearly 350 people there! I live in a really integrated neighborhood. Lots of diversity. But the caucus was filled with primarily Black Americans - there were maybe 25 white people in the room. It was mass chaos, really. The woman in charge said that typically, they had only 4-5 people show up for caucus. But it's not like they didn't realize this was going to happen! At least the Obama camp sent food - pizza, cookies, and coffee. (smart move)

This was Michael's first year to vote for a President and he really wanted to participate in the caucus. Unfortunately, he couldn't find anyone to cover for him at work. So we tried to set up his lunch break so he could run over, sign in, and leave quickly. No such luck. He got there about 7:15, the time it was supposed to convene. Unfortunately, there was still a line for people who hadn't voted yet. And the caucus couldn't begin until they all had an opportunity to join us in the next room. Michael's 30 minutes passed and he had to leave, before it even began.

I stayed. Around 8:00, we began to move into lines to sign our name onto the sheets for our candidate. The room was overwhelmingly pro-Obama. By 8:30, I reached the front, gave my info and my candidate choice. Those who wanted to become delegates for the county convention, or those who wanted to vote on the Democratic resolutions were invited to stay. Everyone else could leave.

The room thinned out considerably.

I sat and spoke with a father & daughter. They were Clinton supporters. The daughter was a Senior at Pflugerville High. She was really enthused about the opportunity to be a delegate. We talked a little more about the comparisons between Clinton and Obama. We talked about reactions we had heard from others regarding the different candidates.

I called Michael on the cell and asked him if he'd like to be a delegate, since he wasn't able to actually attend the caucus. He thought it would be great.

So, by 9 p.m., the precinct chair began going through the resolutions. Clearly, she was not accustomed to voters who wanted to discuss the resolutions. She read the titles and if we wanted to know the Dem position, we'd raise our hands. People moaned and groaned, but she pressed on. We discussed a few proposals, took votes - all while the caucus votes were being tabulated.

In the end, 280 people actually voted that night. 222 for Obama and 57 for Clinton. This would mean that of our 26 alloted delegates, 21 would come from the Obama camp, and 5 would come from Clinton supporters. FYI, delegate numbers are determined by last year's voter turnout.

I was still sitting with my pro-Clinton friends. We were excited that Hillary actually got 57 from a room that appeared to be FULL of Barrack fans. This would mean that she'd have a good shot at being a delegate!

At that point, we separted into 2 different sides of the room, based on candidate choice. We were asked how many of us wanted to be delegates AND were available all day on March 29th. Twenty-six hands went up. A strong white-haired woman evidently decided she wasn't going to allow chaos to dominate any longer. She asked those who had "a burning desire to be a delegate" move to the table and find a seat. She started a couple pieces of paper, for delegates and alternates. I moved to the table for Michael to be a delegate. I offered to be an alternate, if that would help the process.

By then, it was after 10, and Michael was off work. He went straight to the polling precinct, and made it in time to sign in as someone with a "burning desire to be a delegate." Phone numbers and emails were exchanged, and that was the end. It was nearly 11:00 p.m.

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