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6 March 2008
Vote Early, Vote Later

Little Caucus on the Prairie

Texas has a “primacaucus” system.

A month ago, if I’d heard that term, I’d have guessed it was a new and deadly bacterium. Enterococcus, Staphylococcus, Primacoccus.

What it really amounts to is that you get to vote, and then if you really care enough to come back to your polling place (or come just before the polls close, then hang around till the building reopens), you get to vote again!

The “primary” or head of the primacaucus monster makes up two-thirds of the delegate count. The caucus or tail counts for the other third. If and only if you vote in the primary do you get invited to come back (or stay) for the caucus.

Since this was the first time I can remember that my Texas presidential primary vote mattered, and thinking I’d never been to a caucus, I returned to the polling place (a sparse Lutheran church) in the tiny village where I live right after the polls had closed.

Much time was spent checking credentials to ensure participants had really voted in the Democratic primary earlier that day. (The GOP doesn’t go through this foolishness, though I can’t tell you whether any of the caucus-goers were traditionally Republican voters who turned out to prefer a Democrat—i.e., Sen. Clinton, because they think she’s the most beatable—now that their own race is sewn up by McCain.)

While we waited in line, I chatted with my hitherto unknown neighbors about things other than politics. I commented to one ol’ farmer that I’d heard you voted on paper, unlike the Iowa caucuses. He told me with a straight face that each side would line up with a whole bunch of eggs, and they would bomb each other and see who got soaked the least.

I also heard a lovely matron telling her friends about plucking the feathers from an exotic bird she spotted as road kill.

The last stage of check-in required you to sign a sheet and openly support one Democratic contender, which amounts to a choice between Obama and Clinton. Technically, once you had made this choice, you could leave, and a few people did. Most of us stayed for the boring part.

A facilitator was quickly chosen. This is the position about which there has been some stupid infighting within the party based on the idea that holders of this position could control the direction of their caucuses. In fact, the facilitator would have no way of manipulating the meeting because nearly everyone else who showed up for the caucus would have had to be in on the deal. The facilitator was nominated, seconded, and elected unanimously. It was impossible to tell which candidate he favored. Someone else acted as secretary just long enough to get a real secretary elected by the same process.

The facilitator announced the count for the caucus: 29-24 Clinton. That meant we would send four Clinton, and three Obama, delegates to the next level (the county convention). This is why we sat divided by candidate. Each camp selected its delegates and an equal number of alternates. This was pretty much consensual, as the number of volunteers matched the number of positions available. However, a delegate is not bound to the candidate he or she purportedly represents, only to the “principles” of that candidate. Those seven delegates would participate at the county level, and the county convention would elect a certain number of delegates to go on to the state level.

The last step was to choose a leader for the delegation. Here’s where it got interesting. Since the Clinton faction had more votes, everyone assumed they would demand the chair of the delegation. The floor was opened for nominations. One guy with experience from party caucuses was nominated by the Obama group and gave his credentials, which included direct experience with the identical process, albeit in a neighboring county. Then the Clinton faction nominated and seconded a different Obama supporter, who had no recent party experience but was once an activist and hinted at change. He won the subsequent vote.

So, the negativity seen at the national level between the Obama and Clinton camps wasn’t in evidence in our little caucus. The turnout here, and everywhere in Texas, was much higher than usual. When it’s more than a student council election, Texan apathy can mutate into activism.

Afterward, I realized I had been at a meeting like this before. They didn’t call it a caucus, though; something like a “precinct committee meeting.” Certainly not a primacaucus.

Related toon:
Hillary’s Platform
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Turn That Crap Down!

Austin’s latest move to shut up its musicians.

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