Panel takes a look at Texas voting system

July 9, 2008 by  
Filed under Media Coverage

By Enrique Rangel | Lubbock Avalanche-Journal AUSTIN BUREAU

AUSTIN – Recognizing Texas’ Two-Step Caucus method of choosing presidential delegates left many Democratic voters unhappy, as state party leaders met here Monday to study changes to the confusing system.

“While I believe the current system is a good system that encourages turnout and participation and is a great party building tool, I do believe updates must be made,” said Boyd Richie, the state’s Democratic Party chairman, as he spoke to the Advisory Committee on the Texas Democratic Convention/Caucus.

The panel was created for an in-depth look at the party’s primary/caucus method.

The system, which is more than two decades old, was hardly noticed in past presidential elections. But it came under close scrutiny this year during record voter turnout and a split decision. Though Sen. Hillary Clinton edged Sen. Barack Obama in the popular vote in the March 4 primary, Obama won the majority of the state’s 228 delegates with his victory in the caucuses.

Moreover, the precinct caucuses were chaotic in many parts of the state.

That is why at the state party convention last month, many of the die-hard Clinton supporters – including hundreds from the Panhandle and the South Plains – said the Texas Two-Step is not only confusing but undemocratic and needs to go.

They were furious that Clinton won the popular vote but ended up losing to Obama in the number of delegates the Texas Democratic Party will send to the national convention in Denver next month.

A record 2.8 million Texans voted in the Democratic Primary and more than a million of them also participated in the caucuses. It was the high voter turnout that doomed the system, Richie said.

“No one could have expected the record-breaking turnout,” said Richie, who has since backed Obama. “And while this turnout was good for Texas, it was clear the current system that governs the Texas Democratic Party is not capable of handling such a large number of voters.”

Having the caucus immediately after the polls closed on March 4 added to the confusion, Richie said. He proposed the caucuses be held the Saturday after the primary in future elections.

Some party activists, however, wanted to get rid of the caucus system. They said the caucuses are unfair because most people can’t take the time to participate.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, is a committee member. She said that though Clinton supporters make a strong argument, she will keep an open mind throughout the hearings.

“I want to see how we can do this better and how we can encourage more participation,” Farrar said. “I am looking forward to see how this develops. This is a good process for us to go through, to understand why it is what it is.”

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, chairman of the committee, said the panel will hold hearings throughout the state to give rank and file Democrats a chance to voice their opinion.

But except for another Austin hearing, he didn’t mention any locations or dates.

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