From an email from Boyd Richie:
The Advisory Committee on the Texas Democratic Party Convention/Caucus System will conduct a series of meetings which will be open to the public and will allow for Democrats from all across the state to share their Primary/caucus experience. If for some reason you are not able to attend any of these hearings, you are encouraged to submit written testimony by e-mailing it to the Committee at email@example.com. The Committee will then consider this feedback and make recommendations to the State Democratic Executive Committee for possible changes. For more information about the committee meetings, click here.
The second meeting in this series of Advisory Committee Hearings will be held at the Harlingen Public Library in Harlingen, Texas on September 6, 2008 at 9 a.m.
Additional hearings will be held in the following cities:
September 12, 2008: Houston, TX
October 4, 2008: El Paso, TX
October 17, 2008: Arlington, TX
October 18, 2008: Nacogdoches, TX
November 8, 2008: Lubbock, TX
November 14, 2008: Austin, TX
By Lanny Davis
Former White House Counsel
August 4th, 2008 2:28 PM Eastern
It’s time for Democrats to kill the undemocratic and elitist caucus system for selecting national convention delegates for the presidential nomination. Instead, all delegates should be selected in primaries.
The 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver – the national party’s supreme governing body — can do it – or at least take the first step to doing it by passing a resolution establishing a new “Presidential Selection Rules Reform Commission.” Such Commissions have been established many times before, beginning after the 1968 convention, to change the delegate selection rules. A new one is needed more than ever.
The most important item on the reform agenda should be to require all states to hold primaries and to kill the caucus system. There is no doubt that party caucuses discourage voter participation and are, in fact, undemocratic for a variety of reasons. Most people who work for a living can’t afford or senior citizens are not able to sit for three hours in order to vote.
Second, caucuses are frequently gross violations of the one person-one vote principle that I always thought was protected under leading Supreme Court cases.
Two examples. According to some caucus state rules, if a precinct is entitled to elect 4 delegates to the county convention, and the vote is 59 percent for presidential candidate A vs. 41% for candidate B, the mathematical rules are likely to require a division of 2-2 (because Candidate A did not get to 60 percent.) 59 percent – 41 percent — a landslide – results in 50-50 percent dead heat. This is nuts!
Even nuttier is the “Texas Two Step” system. In 2008, the over 2.8 million voters participated in the March 4 democratic primary. Then comes two step: at 7 pm, the party caucuses begin. People get to vote a second time (I am not making this up). But not all votes are equal. If you lived in Houston and Dallas, and carried your precinct in 2006 for the Democratic candidate for governor by a large margin, your vote could be twice or three times as powerful than if you lived in South Texas, in heavily rural Republican counties.
How can that be small “d” Democratic? How can that be constitutional under one person-one vote principles? Doesn’t that embarrass a party that calls itself the “Democratic” Party?
Speaking of embarrassment. The result of these arcane rules for Democratic Party caucuses is incredibly small voter turnouts. The average turnout for all caucuses held in 2008 was under 10 percent. Even in the highest profile caucus state of all, the first one attracting all the media hype for months — King Iowa — the turnout among eligible voters was under 20 percent (meaning 80 percent of eligible voters stayed home). Other low turnout states included New Mexico (11 percent), Nevada (9 percent), North Dakota (4 percent), Minnesota and Maine (5 percent), Colorado and Nebraska (3 percent), and Idaho, Wyoming, Kansas. You did not read that last number incorrectly: That is 3 percent!!!
Other reforms in the presidential delegate selection system that are needed include:
*Abolishing proportional representation and requiring winner-take-all for winners of state primaries (bringing the nominating system into alignment with the electoral college system for electing presidents – isn’t that what this is supposed to be all about – electing a president?
*Limiting primaries to pre-registered Democrats, rather than allowing Rush Limbaugh and others to encourage independents and Republicans to do same day re-registration, motivated only by mischief to muck up the Democratic results;
*Eliminating Super Delegates. After what happened in 2008, it is silly to make believe they can exercise their independent judgment, as they were intended to be able to do when they were created in 1982. They can’t and they didn’t. If the political big wigs who are the Super Delegates want to go to the convention, then give them free tickets.
One final rational, sensible, and fair idea: Why not have five regional primaries, starting on February 1, and the first of the month through June 1, with the order rotated every four years so everyone gets a chance to go first?
The only answer is that the words “rational,” “sensible” and “fair” are usually oxymorons when associated with the phrase, “the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating system.”
Aren’t Democrats embarrassed by all this? If so, then the National Convention has the power to do something about it.
Don’t hold your breath.
The confusion that reigned during the March 4 Democratic primary continues to reverberate across Texas. A conference at Southern Methodist University July 26 designed to discuss what went wrong – and how to fix it – provoked emotional discussions, some tears and general agreement that the party’s primary system doesn’t work.
The SMU meeting was one of several around the state this summer to decide the fate of what’s known as the “Texas two-step.” Most participants at the SMU meeting felt that it’s beyond salvaging. We agree.
The primary got its nickname from the cumbersome, two-step voting process Texas Democrats endure in choosing presidential candidates. First they vote in the state primary, then they’re asked to vote again a few hours later at a precinct convention. Selected delegates go to a district-level convention. Complicated formulas are applied to determine the apportionment of delegates to the state Democratic convention. Further adjustments occur before Texas delegates go to the national convention.
All of this tweaking leads to distortions: Even though Sen. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the primary, most Texas delegate votes at the national convention will go for Sen. Barack Obama.
It left many Clinton supporters feeling the democratic process had failed them. The chaotic scenes at many precinct conventions on March 4, including one in Dallas where a caucus organizer was chased to a police station, were an embarrassment to American democracy.
“There’s no question that people … felt disenfranchised,” says Boyd Ritchie, the state party chairman. “Do I think that the system needs to be changed? Yes, I do. But do I think it needs to be thrown out altogether in favor of a [one-person, one-vote] primary system? I don’t think so.”
American citizens rank among the lowest in the developed world for electoral participation. In the Texas primaries this year, barely 28 percent of registered voters participated – up from a paltry 15.4 percent in 2004.
Complicating the process only discourages participation even more, and it’s hard to imagine a process more complicated than the Texas two-step. Trashing it would do Texas Democrats – and American democracy – a world of good.