The Texas Two-Step, from the inside
I've been ridiculously busy these last few weeks as a Precinct Captain for Barack Obama. I'll say I'm disappointed in yesterday's results; I do not understand the appeal Hillary Clinton has for Democrats. Nevertheless, I've been out in force for the last two weeks working for Obama: making phone calls, canvassing, recruiting for my precinct convention at the primary location yesterday, and helping run my precinct's convention and its Obama caucus last night. It was a crazy evening. I do know that there were complaints aired on CNN last night by Clinton's people about irregularities at the conventions, so here's my tale of what went down last night.
I spent the afternoon at my precinct's polling place (oh joy, oh rapture, oh sunburn). My job was basically to hand out information to Obama supporters about the evening's conventions, and to provide some Obama visibility. I got one of the grad students to help out. We were also there to counterbalance the Hillary folks, who were also present. (It was during the afternoon that I learned that the state chairperson for NOW lives in my precinct.) There were representatives of other campaigns--state reps, constables, judges, etc., and some candidates even dropped by to shake hands and kiss babies. It was a friendly gathering of primary opponents--we were all excruciatingly polite to one another and I provided pizza around 5pm. (This was followed by a crazy interlude involving a drunk driver/domestic violence/car crash/assault of a police officer--it facilitated bonding and high blood pressure for everyone.)
At last another of my precinct's captains showed up, and we were able to start preparing for the convention. Two precincts voted in one tiny building, but luckily our convention was moved a few doors down to a Presbyterian church. Our first job, then, was to make sure all of our precinct's people went through the right door. I soon found, though, that some HIllary folks inside who were running the sign in began the sign in BEFORE the last person had voted in the primary. This was, of course, a violation of Texas Democratic Party rules. Though the polls closed at 7, those people waiting in line at 7 were entitled to vote and then take part in the convention, so the convention itself could not start until the last person voted. I sent two Obama supporters in to stop the process but they came back out and reported that they had been unsuccessful. So I stood in the doorway and yelled, "We cannot start the sign in until the last person has voted. We are in violation of Democratic Party rules!" There were other folks there, including Hillary supporters, who also knew the rules, which was lucky for me, because one particularly nasty Hillary supporter (who had already tried to engage me on the subject on Tony Resko) demanded to know my credentials. I responded that I was a registered Democrat, just like her, and that I had been trained in Democratic Party rules, and that she was welcome to call the Harris County party to confirm. She continued to harass me while I prevented the convention from starting. About five minutes later the election judge came to tell us that the last voted had cast a ballot and we could start.
The Clinton folks later asked me if I was going to lodge a protest, and I said no, that the sign in process had stopped, and that I was satisfied. "You're sure?" he asked. "You're not going to make the people who signed in early go to the end of the line?" Since the people who had signed in early had done so in good faith, mostly because someone told them to, I declined to pursue it. I've thought about this since: most of the people who signed in early were also elderly or disabled. In my most cynical heart of hearts, I wonder if the Clinton people wanted me to say yes, send them to the end of the line. This would have allowed them to then say that the Obama campaign hates little old ladies and folks in wheelchairs.
We signed in 257 people. It took almost two hours to accomplish that, so while people waited in line, I made name tags for Obama supporters and explained the convention system impartially to anyone who would listen. (I also talked to two people who claimed to be McCain supporters who had voted Democratic in order to attend a convention for Hillary. Dirty, dirty, dirty.) I was elected Convention secretary--a fun job involving filling out forms and assisting in the vote count. (Let me tell you, deciphering messy handwriting and counting lines on a ballot at ten at night is no picnic!) About halfway through the count a representative of the Hillary campaign turned up wanting to investigate claims that HIllary supporters were prevented from voting in the precinct convention. Someone apparently had called her campaign to complain (dare I suggest--I bet it was the Hillary supporter who questioned my competence and motives and who wanted to talk about Tony Resko). We had to briefly stop counting to inform him that everyone who wanted to vote had voted here without any trouble. The Hillary folks and the Obama folks agreed on that point, so finally he was persuaded to go away. I'm wondering, though, if the brief trouble at our precinct was one of the sources for the CNN stories that Obama supporters were preventing Clinton supporters from voting.
We wrapped things up around 11. I'm an Obama delegate for our precinct, and couldn't be more pleased to do so (although we lost the precinct by a small margin). I thought that overall the process was fair, fun, and interesting. I think the Democrats can be proud that so many people turned out around the state. I used to think that the convention system was antiquated and useless, but I now think it's great to see democracy in action.
Lastly, it seems that Clinton's victories last night made only the smallest of dents in Obama's lead. So, I am still convinced he will be our nominee. And, I couldn't be happier about that!