Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Grassroots Politics in TX: Senate District Conventions 3/29/08

Hey y'all,

I have been involved pretty much all my life in Democratic politics. This year at our precinct conventions (the night of the primary) we had TWENTY-FIVE times the usual number of attendees. Then as a result of the huge attendance at the first phase, our state senate district conventions, held yesterday, were also unprecedented in size. There was no way to know before the precinct conventions how many people to expect then or yesterday-- which gave 3 1/2 weeks for officials and volunteers to get a grip. We had to find a new venue to accommodate the 4000-5000 we expected and that was not secured until about 10 days ago at best. We would never fit into the 1000 seat high school auditorium that we had originally reserved. We ended up at SMU's basketball coliseum!

The day itself was long but lively, also boring and frustrating on occasion. It took almost 4 hours (8 till noon) to get everyone checked in, and for the remaining credential problems and challenges to be resolved by the credentials committee (they had met the day before for 8 hours in order to get as much done in advance as possible). But in the 23rd, they did not finish those things until 5pm or so ('cuz they apparently did not meet the day before)! At least by that time we in the 16th had elected our delegates and concluded a lot of our business. All the stuff we have to do just takes time, period, and we were overwhelmed.

I would say that 75% of the delegates and alternates at ours were first-timers. And also for the first time I had to actually "campaign" for a state delegate slot, which I lost. Previously, there were so few who wanted to go, almost anyone who wanted at least got an alternate slot. I did apply for an at-large position but don't know about that yet (see below in the message I sent to my fellow precinct delegates). The at-large list was approved by what was left of the convention last night after I had left (we left at 7:45pm). If I am not selected I may attend as a volunteer.

Despite what you may have seen or heard in the news about some of these gatherings, our convention was relatively orderly though long; and I am glad I was there and not at some of the others. The ones with the outlandish reports are not representative of the over 100 conventions that took place.

Please read below for what was really the best part of my day.


Dear Fellow Precinct 1230, 16th Senate District Convention participants and

I thought I would share the experience that 3 of us had after our precinct
had caucused at Saturday's 16th Senate District Convention. It was enriching
in that it provided us a real backstage and inspiring view of how our
"Democratic democratic" process operates.

Late in the afternoon, several 1230 delegates who were still just hanging
around the coliseum made their way downstairs to the practice court, where
the nominations committee was meeting. After we had been waiting and
chatting for a considerable amount of time with some of our other M streets
neighbors, committee co-chair David Bradley asked that some of those present
consider working with the tabulations folks to speed up the process and let
the nominations committee get to its task asap. There had been only two
people remaining who were attempting to tabulate those many thousands of
presidential preferences; and alone, they'd be there all night. At least
three folks from 1230 (Tina Aguilar, Steven Hartsell and I) were accepted
as ad hoc members of the tabulations committee (9 Obama and 9 Clinton

As many probably know, no delegates are officially assigned from senate
district convention precinct caucus results until the tabulations of
presidential preference sign-in sheets are complete. In addition, the
nominations committee cannot assign at-large delegates until it knows the
exact percentage of Clinton and Obama delegate sign-ins on the polls. Then
the delegates must be split by candidate in the same percentages as
the preferences. The at-large delegate (60) and alternate (60)
positions are used to send other party and campaign participants and to
balance the delegation according to presidential preference percentages,
gender, orientation, ethnicity, the physically challenged, and under-35/over 35.
(Hey, we are the Democrats.)

This was a very large convention (estimates put it at 4000+), five times
larger than usual. There was a long delay after we all held our precinct
caucuses until the nominations committee had those results, so that they
could begin the at-large selection process. (They had already sorted the
applications by candidiate, then had to wait for tabulations.)

All the presidential preference sign-in sheets from the convention were
reviewed by nine pairs of people working on the tabulations committee--each
precinct's sheets is reviewed by one Obama and one Clinton delegate
together, double checking each others' counts, making sure that only actual
delegates' preference votes are counted and not those of alternates (unless
they were elevated to delegate status...which must be marked on the precinct
paperwork or we don't know that they were elevated), whether the precinct
had too many delegates voting, that if a person did not put their
presidential preference on the sheet we can't count it because we don't know
their intention, etc, etc. This is like counting 4000 paper ballots by hand
because we had to review EVERY signature and make sure that all the sign-ins
were legit. And we DID have to reject some. But because we were working in
balanced pairs, every rule was applied equally and fairly across the board.
For example, I can tell you that a longtime convention participant and
former elected official neglected to indicate alternate or delegate status,
and actually forgot to list a presidential preference so there was no way we
could count that as a preference vote for a candidate. And with thousands of
delegates--most of whom disappear after the precincts elect their state
delegates--we can't go out to the floor and page everybody that made a
mistake and ask them what they meant, or track them down after they have
left. It has to be done correctly in the first place.

As we learned, those kinds of silly mistakes are the reason that precincts
are not supposed to circulate the sign-in sheets before being specifically
instructed to do so--to avoid those very kinds of careless mistakes and
oversights that cost people their votes, and make to sure all t's are
crossed and i's are dotted. I guess the best way to do that is to be
systematic and organized about the sign-in process. Our precinct started
early, I admit, which to me had seemed like no big deal at the time.
Fortunately, we did not have errors...but I can tell you from now on, I'd be
fine with waiting because of the messes I saw from other precincts. A real

It takes a LOOOOOng time to double check that many signatures but it must be
done to get an accurate percentage for the delegate count as we move forward
to select our national delegates in Austin. I thank the District 16
delegates for their patience, especially those waiting to find out if they
have been selected as at-large delegates or alternates (that includes me,
and I still don't know).

We were only working with several thousand sign-ins. I now have even greater
sympathy for all the county Democratic officials all over the state who had
to go through the poll sheets from the precinct conventions.

And I want to point out to those who might think that some of these party
processes are carried out unfairly or recklessly, that great efforts were
made to ensure fairness and accuracy. Both candidates were exactly equally
represented in the tabulations committee. We took our job very seriously.

In addition, I would say that our precinct 1230 always carries out its business fairly,
and that our 16th district convention appears to have been orderly compared to many
others around the D/FW metroplex and the state.

I may volunteer in advance for this committee next time as a result of my
experience Saturday!

And if any of my narrative seems weird or wrong, all I can say is that I initially
wrote it still exhausted from the convention--a lot of adrenalin, the crash, and
then the "hangover"!!

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