Texas Democrats consider changes to two-step primary system

July 8, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, Media Coverage

By Brandi Grissom / El Paso Times Austin Bureau
Article Launched: 07/07/2008 04:11:31 PM MDT

AUSTIN – Texas Democrats’ election system was incapable of handling the millions of voters and caucus-goers who turned out to support presidential candidates in March, state party chairman Boyd Richie said Monday.

“This tremendous enthusiasm and tremendous turnout showed the flaws in the system,” Richie said.

The Texas Democratic Party’s Advisory Committee on the Convention and Caucus System held its first meeting Monday, launching a series of hearings statewide to examine whether the two-step primary system needs to change. The committee heard from party officials and experts about what went wrong in the delegate selection process this year and heard ideas for improvement.

“Were there problems? Yes,” said state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, chairman of the committee. “Do we need to deal with some of those problems? Yes.”

About 2.8 million Democrats turned out in Texas to vote for U.S. Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. About 1 million came back to their precincts election night to participate in the party’s drawn out caucus process.

It was the first time in recent history that the presidential nominee had not been chosen before the Texas primary election, so predicting turnout was problematic, Richie said.

“We did everything we thought possible to prepare and anticipate before the primary,” he said.

In El Paso, he said, party officials conducted 80 training sessions to prepare election officials and volunteers.

Still, confusion abounded at precinct
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conventions and later at county conventions across the state.

Richie suggested perhaps separating the dates of the election and the caucus so that those with family responsibilities and other duties would not have to wait until late at night to participate in the caucus.

Maybe using more technology would help, too, he said.

He didn’t suggest scrapping the 20-year-old system and allocating all of Texas delegates according to the results of the primary election, as some have.

“It really works when people understand and participate,” Richie said.

He reminded the committee that whatever changes they make to the system will cost money. Implementing an electronic system in all 254 Texas counties, he said, would take about $2 million.

Yolanda Clay, an El Pasoan on the committee, was unable to attend the meeting but said she hoped at future hearings Democrats would air the many complaints of unfairness she has heard.

“This caucus system has got to be changed if we keep it all,” she said.

El Paso Democrat Don Williams said the current system is complicated and the party didn’t educate voters enough about how it works.

“A lot of people were caught off guard, because they didn’t understand,” Williams said.

The committee has not yet decided when and where its statewide hearings will be. Any recommendations would be acted on at the Texas Democratic Party convention in 2010 and would not be implemented until the 2012 election.

Brandi Grissom can be reached at bgrissom@elpasotimes.com; (512) 479-6606.

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