Written Testimony of Precinct Chair Reuben Leslie

November 25, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, Testimony

Reuben Leslie, a Democratic Party precinct chair in Travis County, submitted the following testimony to the Advisory Committee on the Texas Democratic Party Convention/Caucus System.  If for some reason you are not able to attend any of the hearings, you are encouraged to submit written testimony by e-mailing it to the Committee at testimony@txdemocrats.org. If you send us a copy by using the form here, we can post it on this website.

Thank you for the continuing opportunity to offer comments on how to improve the Texas presidential delegate selection process.

I’ve heard it reported that the high level of participation in this year’s precinct conventions was because of the delegate selection process that left some of the outcome of the Texas delegate apportionment among candidates to the sign-up at conventions.  I think that’s a bit off.  The high levels of participation were the direct result of a highly competitive primary election for the presidential nomination, our great candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  We’ve had the same system since 1988, but the highest levels of convention attendance since then have been less than a tenth of this year’s.  The high levels of participation in the 2008 primary election voting and precinct conventions are to be celebrated, but analysis of the disparity between the outcomes of the election and the convention process reveals a serious set of flaws, all undermining fair play and democratic principles, that must be corrected.  Those principles threatened are “one person, one vote” and “equal opportunity to vote.”   Why should those attending a convention get a second chance to vote and sway the outcome when not everyone can attend a convention?  If you wonder who can’t, please consider our soldiers deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq or anyone traveling away from home on election day, or the thousands of frail elderly or people with disabilities or illnesses making an outing at a convention impossible. Some say participation through personal attendance encourages democratic and deliberative activism.  That may be true of discussion of issues and resolutions or even selection of individuals to represent the precinct or other level at the next level, but it certainly wasn’t true of the convention delegate selection process based on presidential preference as practiced in Texas.  In practice, the vast majority of convention “participants” just signed up and left, not participating in any deliberative process.  They merely “voted” again.  The highest level of participation in our 2-decade-old process exposed this fundamental unfairness.  The campaigns identified it and exploited it too, encouraging game-playing and manipulation rather than upholding democratic fairness and full participation for all.  The experience this year also exposed the lack of planning and preparation for full participation (insufficient supplies, facilities, and volunteers-staff to handle sign-in, parking, etc.) in nearly every convention location.  Many delegates and alternates who waited and some who gave up vowed “never again.”  The long waits in lines at the county convention just to get in disparately discouraged elderly and the disabled from participating at all.  Both the county and state conventions suffered from failure to plan for, with staffing and facilities, the crowd that the rules called for.

In using strictly convention sign-ups to apportion delegates, the aggregating and rounding at so many levels is unfair and capricious.  A candidate won 39.27% of the vote in our precinct, but was awarded only 33.33 % of the precinct’s delegates to the state convention.  Multiplied times thousands, the rounding error alone could have led to a different outcome.  Rules for delegate selection caucus voting defy easy description, being completely different at each level, which also caused many new participants to believe they were being unfairly treated. 

Practices were worse at the state convention.  Unequal facilities and access to microphones were provided to the two presidential caucuses for each senate district.  Bullying rather than orderly processes dominated…together and in separate caucuses.  The no-speeches edict from the SDEC was a disaster in the senate district caucuses, and every misguided parliamentary shortcut attempted backfired, wasting time, violating individual rights, and creating bad feelings all around.  The Presidential nomination outcome was ultimately determined by neither primary votes nor caucuses, but by the “super delegates” who responded to perceived momentum and other considerations. They were not necessarily democratic or fair in their judgments.  I feel strongly that Hillary Clinton did not receive equal treatment by the party or the press. Very seldom did the rampant sexist and disrespectful treatment of Hillary Clinton by her opponents and the press receive the condemnation such behavior deserved. 

We need to plan better for precinct conventions, and we need to start them at 8:00 PM if we keep them on election day.  County, senate district and state conventions need to be scaled to the capacity of facilities to house them (the numbers per precinct and SD were too great to have caucus space).  If nothing else, we at least need to make the apportionment of national delegates depend solely on the primary vote.  And if we keep the caucus system for any delegates, then we have to allow mail-in or other participation by absentees, including anyone out of town (like our soldiers and sailors), anyone hospitalized, anyone frail or taking care of someone who is, anyone unable to leave work or school for the specific time needed to be present to caucus, or anyone physically or mentally unable to spend hours standing or sitting uncomfortably in cramped spaces or anyone unable to hear in such a noisy din.  What we have without these reforms isn’t democracy, it is the dictatorship of the fit and free-time elite!  We must do better.

Thank you again for this opportunity, and please know that I am committed to working within our rule-making framework to build a stronger and more sustainable democratically controlled Democratic Party.

Reuben Leslie, Precinct Chair, Precinct 259, Travis County Democartic Party 
Austin, TX

Precinct Website: http://www.io.com/~rlsd/tcdp259.htm


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