Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Mad Middle Aged White Texas Women Caucus For Hillary In Texas

As an Obama volunteer in the East Texas town of Center on Election day I observed first hand the primary voting and second step caucus process. Our goal was to get out the vote on and encourage voters to return to attend the caucuses in the evening. We helped facilitate and train Obama supporters on how the process worked. Ultimately we hoped to elect as many Obama delegates as possible in each precinct. Texas allocates one third of their Democratic national convention delegates in the caucus phase of their primary the other two-thirds are choosen in the voting phase.

I talked to a local Jasper County Democratic Party official about the rules prior to the caucus when he stopped by to drop off the caucus paperwork packet and forms at the polling location. He handed them to one of the Obama supporters through the window of his pickup and appointed her the temporary chair before speeding out of the parking lot. “I don’t want to hear my name on CNN tomorrow, so make sure you don’t do anything too crazy okay? He yelled out the window, as he left.

At the particular precinct where I worked there was some confusion filling out the paperwork and getting the process started. The main function of the temporary chair was to call the caucus to order and then call for nominations and election of a permanent chair. When this was completed she was to call for nomination and an election to fill a secretary position. These two newly elected functionaries would then theoretically run the caucus.

Texas Democratic Party rules apparently do not bar outside observers to monitor the caucus process. Our interpretations of this was that observers were allowed at the caucus locations and also allowed to help with questions Obama supporters had about running the caucus and filling out the voter sign up sheets, tally sheets and results certifications. During the caucus itself many questions came up that required us to give advise to the chairperson or secretary about what to do. The main problem seemed to be that many of the participants had problems when it came to filling out the sign up sheets. Each participant could be required to produce ID or a voter’s card to verify that they were register and more often then not their names had to be look up in voter registration books. This slowed things down considerably.

Nine white women and one white man were the first to show up for the evening caucus. It gave us a bit of a scare because we thought that perhaps this was a sign that a large Clinton contingent was going to attend. Then the Obama supporters started to arrive and before long completely outnumbered the Clinton folks.

Jasper County Texas has a history of racial intolerance. Our Obama field organizer had warned us that in the past African Americans had been shut out of the election process. There were 103 register voters who attended the caucus that I observed. 93 signed in and indicated that they were for Barak Obama and all of these Obama supporters were African American . The remaining ten voters indicated their preference for Hillary Clinton. The 10 voters supporting Clinton were white and, except for on forty something male, predominately white middle-aged women. The final allocation of delegates was not unusual in that the precinct has a large African American population. The main difference, I was told by one old timer was that the Obama campaign had been successful in bringing many new voters to the polls. The precinct’s allocation called for 18 delegates and in the end Obama was awarded 16 delegates and Clinton 2 based on the tabulation of the sign up sheets.

During the caucus the Clinton supporters were left to stew in the corner amazed at the number of mostly poor and working class African Americans who had shown up and taken over the caucus. One say to me: “It’s unfair that a bunch of people can come here from Detroit and take away our votes”, apparently a reference to what she thought of me and the other Obama campaign workers observing the process. The Clinton supporters finally left together in sort of a huff, threatening to “sue” or file complaints with local party officials about what they thought were mistakes in the way the caucus had been conducted. Admittedly it was not perfect but I saw no attempt to not give the Clinton supporters their fair share of delegates.

This scenario repeated itself I’m sure in many other precincts in rural East Texas last night. It was part and parcel of the Obama campaign strategy to enfranchise black voters to participate . The turnouts were heavy in most places and there was wide spread confusion. Especially among the historically intolerant white folks who have had their way running the show for as long as they can remember around here.

Driving to Dallas to catch a plane for my trip back to Seattle today I heard a report that the Clinton campaign had threatening to bring legal action in Texas based on claims of wide spread “irregularities” related to the caucuses. There goes Clinton devaluing the caucus system again. What will come of it is anybody's guess. But it appears that even though Obama lost the popular vote he may have won the caucus phase of the Texas primary.

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