Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Participating in democracy: two hours at a Texas Precinct Convention

By Nancy Jane Moore

I just got back from my precinct convention. It was an informal, but very civilized affair, and we got the business done in a couple of hours. We were choosing 18 delegates to the Travis County convention and we ended up with 13 for Obama, 5 for Clinton.

169 people showed up, filling up the Galindo Elementary School library and causing everyone to want the air conditioning on despite the fact that today was rather nippy. (Turns out the AC is controlled from downtown, so we suffered in the heat.) I thought that was a huge turnout until I checked the local paper and found out other precincts had 400 - 500 people.

I ended up as an alternate to the county convention. We gave priority in choosing delegates to those who counted votes and helped people sign in. Seemed fair to me.

It occurred to me while sitting there waiting for the count that one advantage of the Texas Two Step is that someone who was really undecided could vote for one candidate in the primary and another at the caucus. Not a bad way to express your undecidedness. I wasn't undecided, but I know several people who have been agonizing over the choice.

At the moment, The New York Times is showing Clinton with 50 percent of the Texas primary vote and Obama with 48 percent. However, don't be surprised if Obama ends up with more delegates from the primary itself, even if that count holds up; delegates are divided up among state senate districts and those districts that had a better Democratic turnout in 2004 and 2006 get more delegates. The count's still far from over, but the sections of the state currently showing a heavy Obama lead -- Austin, Dallas-Ft. Worth, and Houston (and surrounding counties) -- are all areas with more delegates.

The precinct convention votes will come in even slower. It's an overcomplicated system. I don't know why they designed it this way, but I suspect compromise: Some people wanted the flash and glitter of a primary and others wanted to stick with the traditional precinct conventions. I do understand why the delegates are weighted toward heavily Democratic districts: The Democratic Party has been very weak in Texas in recent years and they wanted to make sure the hard-core Democrats had the most say in choosing candidates.

Primaries and caucuses are, after all, a party process, not a citizen process. And parties get to make up their own rules, within reason.

I note that the newspapers and TV networks are now declaring Clinton the winner in Ohio. I don't know how they divide their delegates up, but I suspect -- based on earlier races -- that it isn't just a simple matter of percentage of the popular vote. It'll be interesting to see how many delegates each candidate gets there, too.

One thing I am sure of at this point: the race isn't over yet. We might even see a contested convention. I don't really object to that, so long as we all remember we're on the same side. We treated each other with respect at my precinct convention, and I hope the Obama and Clinton campaigns will show respect for each other as well. Democrats need to come out of this contest stronger, not beat each other up until they're too weak to take on McCain.

No comments: