Thursday, April 24, 2008

Scenes from the class struggle in NoDal

[Followup to my earlier post on the Texas primary and caucus]

The Democrat caucus process is, as I understand it, meant to serve as a first buffer against the electorate voting in the “wrong” candidate, with the now controversial superdelegates functioning as a final trump card in case that didn’t work out either. The goal ultimately being to nominate the candidate desired by party leaders while keeping up the appearance that the people decide even in close races.

But whatever its purpose, in practice it’s a mess, at least in Texas in 2008. And from what I’ve read, that is hardly limited to one precinct or one state; it’s just the nature of the caucus mechanism.

In our case, the rule was you voted in the primary and then could come back and vote in the caucus that night at 7:00. I voted midday; there was no line at all, maybe 3-4 people there. But when I came back around 6:45 there was a huge line of people waiting to place primary votes, and those of us there to vote in the caucus were ushered into the school cafeteria.

Around 7:00, some guy (who I’ll refer to as Gay Principal because he is a middle school principal who was pretty much flaming) stepped to the podium and said that we could form three lines to vote, but could not start until everybody had finished primary voting – the doors were closed at 7:00 but anybody already in line could still vote. He explained that once you had voted, you were free to leave unless you wanted to stick around for the election of officers.

Much of the crowd got in line (not me, that place was SRO and I wasn’t about to give up my very tiny elementary school cafeteria seat). And the volunteers sitting at the tables at the front of the lines…let them start casting their votes, which turns out to be presenting your voter registration card and a photo ID (cool!), writing down your info and voting. Gay Principal’s orders were summarily ignored.

It looked like most of the people who were voting then left, a few stuck around but they were a solid minority. All the while new caucusers who had just voted in the primary were filing in, so the entrance and exit was a traffic jam.

After a few minutes of this, another guy (let’s call him Too Much Golf Guy, he had a serious face burn going on) found Gay Principal and they stepped to the podium to get everybody to STOP! voting until we give you the cue, please! So for about a half hour, maybe a little more, there were a whole bunch of folks standing in line and I was pretty damned glad that I had not given up my tiny seat and that I’d brought along some reading material.

Finally, maybe 7:45-8:00, Gay Principal stepped up to say that we could start voting again. I was still sitting, waiting for the lines to clear. At this point, or maybe even a little before, some vote sheets started circulating around the room, with some guy sitting behind me and to the left (Fake Rob Reiner) telling whoever would listen to just write in their votes on these sheets and save the trouble of standing in line.

This sounded kind of suspicious to some of us, since they were clearly checking ID and registration and just writing your info in would leave the process open to fraud. Indeed, I saw a lady with one of the sheets for a few minutes, as she shuffled through 3-4 registration cards entering info and casting multiple votes. I’m not sure if any of the traditional Democrat constituencies like dead people and cartoon and movie characters voted, but I’m going to guess the answer is yes.

Finally Too Much Golf Guy got wind of what was happening and got up to tell everybody to only vote at the front of the room, the extra sheets would not count. The problem was, the extra sheets were collected and brought to the front of the room where they got mixed in with the legitimate sheets. I later got a chance to see at a few of them piled loosely and saw that they were all 100% Obama pages, so you can guess what was going on there. Too Much Golf Guy, who appeared to be the only Clinton supporter among the volunteers, was assured that the bad pages would be thrown out…yeah, right.

I finally got in line after it got really short and got to the front where I found a table full of people wearing Obama pins (as was Gay Principal, it turned out). Oddly, I was asked who I was voting for, said Clinton and was given a new blank page with no grid to write in my info as the volunteer said they were out of sheets. I later saw blank sheets on another table, so I suspect that my voting on a no-vote sheet I was ultimately disenfranchised. Such is the fate of the white male in America.

A word on the voters, based on talking to people, looking at sheets and the later officer voting where supporters of the candidates split up. You could pretty much tell whom a given voter was supporting just by looking at them.

No, no, not that. There were a decent number of black Clinton voters and white Obama voters. I’m talking about how they were dressed. Anybody wearing a nice suit or designer casual wear was for Obama, as was anybody wearing any expensive jewelry or shoes. The Clinton voter was wearing jeans and a t-shirt or cheap collared shirt. I fit the stereotype, as I voted for Clinton while wearing jeans and my Bush (the band) t-shirt just for mischief’s sake.

After all of the votes had been cast and the only the hard cores were left, maybe 8:45 or so by now, we began the process of selecting officers. Obama supporter Gay Principal and Clinton supporter Too Much Golf Guy tried to get things going by collecting the vote pages to be delivered to the party. Too Much Golf Guy protested because the sheets that he had been promised would not be counted were left in, with Gay Principal and a vocal guy sitting in the front (I’ll call him Coming to America, after the genius Eddie Murphy movie) basically shouting him down with the justification that they would let the party officials sort it out as they verified absentees and such. Too Much Golf Guy looked totally beaten down right then, I felt sorry for him.

Lots of high-minded comments about how the only thing that mattered was to get it right were heard from the peanut gallery, hilarious since it was obvious to anybody paying attention by then that in this particular precinct caucus the fix was in for Obama. Nobody does cognitive dissonance like the Dems…

Following a handful of procedural motions and votes, it was time to select the officers who would represent the precinct at a state caucus meeting a few weeks down the road. The important one was chairman, since that would be who got to explain the extra sheet kerfuffle to the state party guys.

Gay Principal was nominated, as was an Asian girl (Obama supporter) and a guy who looked like a former college football player to get at least one Clinton supporter into the vote. In the first round of voting, the Clinton guy got the most votes and was declared the winner briefly, until somebody declared that the winner had to have a majority and not just a plurality (an idea which was never voted on or suggested until the possibility of a non-Obama chair emerged).

So Gay Principal dropped out, and a second vote was taken – tie! And another vote and another tie. Then they had the supporters of each candidate move to opposite sides of the room to make sure it was really a tie, which it was. And then, I’m not sure exactly how, the Obama girl was named the winner – I guess they found another vote somewhere à la the last Washington governor’s race. As if there could have been any other outcome in this group.

After that, there were less contentious votes for vice chair and secretary, and…then it was getting to be 9:15 and time for me to go as I needed to get on to the more important matter of the 9:30 Lakers game, so I missed the probably mundane conclusion.

All in all, a fascinating and at the same time hilarious experience. What I learned is that primaries are the only part of the nominating process that has much legitimacy; caucus results (not all, but this one was hardly unique from what I read) are suspect at best and the superdelegate process even moreso. It should surprise nobody that the party that privately (and, in an increasing number of slipups, publicly) holds most of the population in contempt would seek to hedge its bets by creating a multi-tiered nominating process. If only the had a way of getting around the people’s will in November…

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