Texas Two-Step: Democrats in disarray

December 31, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, News & Commentary

It was a good year for Democrats. But on March 4 in Texas, it felt as if things were going to fall apart.

The Democratic presidential primary was stretching into a months-long battle, with neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama able to clinch the party’s nomination; the candidates were still scrapping over every delegate.

The Texas vote became crucial for the first time in decades, and suddenly the nation’s eyes focused on the Texas Two-Step — a confounding system, unlike any other in the country, that awards delegates based on a primary anda caucus.

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“It was a big old floodlight that got shone on Texas,” says Fort Worth Democrat Pam Durham (above left) And in that crucial moment, she says — when results mattered and the nation was watching — the system failed. Big time.

A record number of caucusgoers overwhelmed the precinct conventions. There weren’t enough materials, enough staff to get voters signed in or even enough people who knew what was going on. And the rooms were crowded with passionate — at times aggressive — voters who wanted to help their candidates win.

“I heard some horror stories,” says Steve Lerma (above center), who chaired a credentials committee that handled disputes: Precinct captains intimidated; Clinton and Obama supporters going at each other; facilities that closed down and left voters to caucus outside in the dark.

The Two-Step ended — weeks later, at the party’s state convention — with a result that reflected its confusion and inconsistencies: Clinton won the state’s popular vote, but Obama walked away with more delegates.

It’s unlikely the same chaotic disaster will reoccur. But that doesn’t mean Democrats should leave the system alone, Durham says. She, Lerma and another Fort Worth Democrat, Jason C.N. Smith (above right), are among many advocating for a simpler system without all the potential for confusion and disenfranchisement.

There have been hearings across the state this fall, with Democrats telling their stories and offering suggestions; an advisory panel will soon make recommendations to the state Democratic Executive Committee.

“If our state government isn’t going to provide the resources and if our political party can’t provide the resources to make sure the system is run in a fair manner, then we should find a new system,” Smith says. “I think the Two-Step should be left to Billy Bob’s.”

— Alyson Ward

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Dec 28, 2008

The Story of 95-year-old Bill Sinkin

December 23, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, Media Coverage, News & Commentary

Bill Sinkin (Photo: Tom Reel/San Antonio Express-News)

Bill Sinkin (Photo: Tom Reel/San Antonio Express-News)

To those Texas Democrats who — incredibly — still believe their cumbersome “two-step” primary voting process is a good idea, consider the story of 95-year-old Bill Sinkin.

For 66 years, Sinkin had been one of your precinct chairmen in San Antonio — one of your party’s biggest cheerleaders and most loyal activists.

And, after slogging through years of lagging voter interest, Sinkin should have been able to savor March’s once-in-a-generation presidential primary contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Yet, as much as it pained him, he had to put himself on the sideline.

There was no way the dapper, yet frail, party lion could’ve held up during the hours-long precinct caucuses that took place after the polls closed.

“It was the first meeting in 66 years I didn’t preside over,” Sinkin recalled Monday.

I called Sinkin after reading coverage over the weekend of a public hearing held by the Texas Democratic Party to consider the future of the so-called two-step system.

Unlike a straight primary, the system divvies up the state’s presidential delegates through a combination of traditional voting at the ballot box and a round of precinct caucuses that requires voters to return after the polls close.

Sixty-five percent of the delegates to the party’s state convention are determined by the popular vote; 35 percent are decided by the caucus results.

Due to high voter interest in March, the caucus process was fraught with confusion, long lines, complaints about bullying tactics and a painfully slow ballot-counting process. A full three days after the March 4 Democratic primary, party officials in Austin had received less than half of the statewide caucus results.

For those reasons, it was distressing to read that party officials are apparently more inclined to put Band-Aids on the two-step than to revamp it.

Royce West, the Dallas area state senator who heads the advisory committee considering changes to the caucus system, was paraphrased in this newspaper as saying he was convinced that most Texas Democrats still support some form of caucus.

In nine hearings attracting about 40 people each, West said, there was a common theme: “Mend it, but don’t end it.”

That might be true, but one would think state Democratic Party officials would want to look deeper than the 360 people who bothered to show up to some hearings about an arcane subject.

They should pay more attention to the 1.8 million Texans who voted in the Democratic primary and then couldn’t, or wouldn’t, show up for the nighttime caucuses.

If you don’t believe me, ask Sinkin, who has devoted his life to the party.

“I don’t think the (caucus system) is the right process,” Sinkin said. “It’s so hard to get people out in the first place, and then you make it more difficult by having people come out twice.

“It’s a wasted motion,” he said.

The idea behind the caucuses might have been pure: to reward involvement in the party process.

But if March proved anything, it showed that the two-step was not equipped to handle a high-turnout election.

And before party bosses decide to tweak the system, they should ask one question:

If a 95-year-old stalwart can’t fully participate in the voting process, is it a system worth keeping?

To contact Jaime Castillo, call (210) 250-3174 or e-mail jscastillo@express-news.net.

Dems need a runoff: ‘Two-step’ vs. common sense
by Jaime Castillo
San Antonio Express-News columnist

San Antonio Express News: Democrats weigh in on ‘two-step’

December 20, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, Media Coverage, News & Commentary

The future of the Texas Democratic Party’s system of allocating presidential nominating delegates remained undecided Saturday after the party conducted a final hearing on its controversial procedures.
Headed by state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, the Advisory Committee on the Texas Democratic Party Convention/Caucus System heard testimony from more than 25 San Antonio-area Democrats who shared their perspectives on the process known as the “Texas two-step.” The committee will reconvene late next month to discuss possible changes to the rules.

The key issue is whether the party should continue to allocate 65 percent of delegates to the party’s state convention based on the popular vote and the remaining 35 percent based on caucus results.

The party allocates 126 delegates based on the popular vote and 67 based on the caucuses. This year’s popular vote in the March primary gave Hillary Clinton 65 delegates and Barack Obama 61. But in the caucuses held after polls closed, Obama won 37 of the delegates while Clinton got 30.

Partisans attending the hearing at the offices of the San Antonio Area Progressive Action Coalition both defended the caucuses and argued for changes, such as scheduling the caucuses on Saturdays instead of Tuesday evenings.

David Van Os said he defended the two-step from naysayers for many years because he thought it was a good way to attract newcomers to the party framework. But this year’s election changed his mind.

“This year persuaded me that I was wrong because it alienates people when they have to sit for hours and hours just to get their vote counted,” Van Os said, adding that he didn’t go home from his caucus until 4 a.m.

“Everybody’s vote should be counted exactly the same.”

Other speakers pointed out that the late-night caucuses disenfranchised some groups, specifically: the elderly, people with young children, military personnel and the disabled. Issues of requiring party registration before voting, better training for party personnel and more emphasis on using caucuses for political organization were also highlighted.

West was appointed by state party chairman Boyd Richie to hold the hearings and report on any necessary changes to the system at the party’s state convention in two years.

“We wouldn’t have been going around the state of Texas if this were an exercise in futility,” West said of the travel that has taken him and other members of the committee from the Rio Grande Valley to El Paso to Dallas and, finally, San Antonio.

On Saturday, West said each of the nine hearings drew about 40 people. The hearings have convinced him that most Texas Democrats support the idea of a caucus system in some form. West said testimony shared a common theme: Mend it but don’t end it.

The man who brought the issue to the June state convention, 79-year-old Wendle Scott of Gonzales County, was unwavering in his distaste for the two-step. Scott said it amounted to the same sort of disenfranchisement suffered by black, American Indian and women voters in previous years, as well as other obstacles such as poll taxes.

“Every voter’s vote ought to count the same, and the Texas two-step destroys that,” said Scott, who was an Obama delegate at this year’s state convention.

“The two-step system gives the party bosses a little bit of extra control, and they’re trying to preserve that,” he said.

Mike Thelen, a relative newcomer to the two-step, had a different perspective. This year, he attended his first caucus because he said he felt so strongly about the need for a change in leadership.

Thelen ended up not only becoming secretary of his precinct convention, but a county delegate and finally a delegate to the state convention. He said his political adventure would not have been possible without the caucus, adding that it is a great way to sustain the future of the Democratic Party in Texas with volunteers.

“I don’t argue with ‘one person, one vote,'” Thelen said of his fellow Democrats. But he had a more pragmatic view. “This isn’t a general election, it’s a party election.”

Photo of Davis Van Os From San Antonio TDP Caucus Hearing December 20, 2008

Democrats weigh in on ‘two-step’
By Sara Inés Calderón – San Antonio Express-News

Democrats Who Oppose the “Texas Two Step” to Attend Hearing on Primary/Caucus System in San Antonio Dec 20

December 20, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, Press Releases

Media Advisory

For immediate release: December 20, 2008

Contact: Scott Cobb 512-xxx-xxxx, www.changethecaucus.org

Democrats Who Oppose the “Texas Two Step” to Attend Hearing on Primary/Caucus System at San Antonio Area Progressive Action Coalition in San Antonio, Texas on Saturday December 20

Group Members to Testify to Texas Democratic Party Advisory Committee for an End to the Texas Two Step Used by Texas Democrats to Allocate National Delegates

A group of Democrats who are seeking an end to the “Texas Two-Step” process of allocating delegates among the candidates for president will attend a hearing sponsored by the Texas Democratic Party in San Antonio on Saturday, December 20. Members of the group will be available for media interviews starting at 10:00am on December 20 before the hearing starts as well as while the hearing is in progress.

The hearing is being held by the Advisory Committee on the Texas Democratic Party Convention/Caucus System. The Committee is conducting a series of meetings open to the public to allow for Democrats from all across the state to share their Primary/caucus experience. This is the 9th and final meeting for public testimony before the committee begins deliberation on any changes they decide to recommend based on input from the public.

The meeting of the Advisory committee will be at the San Antonio Area Progressive Action Coalition in San Antonio, Texas on Saturday, Dec 20, 2008 at 10:30am. The SAAPAC is located at 7122 San Pedro, Ste 114 (rear of the building next to Ocean Dental).

The “End the Texas Two Step” group wants the Texas Democratic Party to change its rules for future elections, so that all national delegates are awarded to presidential candidates based only on the results of the popular vote in the primary. In 2008, delegates were chosen through a complicated “Texas Two-Step” process that allocated 126 delegates based on the primary and 67 through the caucus system.

At the Texas Democratic State Convention in June, the group collected signatures from more than 30 percent of the number of delegates to the convention on a resolution calling for an end to the “Texas Two-Step”. When the resolution was brought to the floor of the convention, it was tabled without discussion on a motion by Senator Royce West on the grounds that his committee will be looking into the caucus system.

“The current system is unfair because it dilutes the voting strength of people who vote in the primary but do not return for the caucuses. Many people can not attend caucuses because of reasons beyond their control, such as their age or their health, or they may have young children, or they may work or attend school in the evenings, or they may be in the military and stationed overseas. Others may just be unaware that to fully support their chosen candidate they have to “vote twice”. Less than one-third of the 2.8 million people who voted in the Democratic primary on March 4 returned for the caucuses. Around 2,000,000 people voted in the primary but did not return for the caucuses”, said Scott Cobb.

“We believe ALL voters should count equally”, said Amy Esdorn, who voted for Barack Obama in the primary, but was unable to attend the caucus because she is a graduate student who had class the evening of March 4.

Five days before his death on November 19, former Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox testified at an Austin hearing of the TDP Advisory Committee on the Convention/Caucus. He testified, “Now let me tell you, folks. This system we’ve got is an expensive system. It’s an unintelligible system. It is an acrimonious system across the board. It is subject to misconduct, it is subject to fraud, it is subject to manipulation. It’s unfair, it’s uncertain, it’s inaccurate, and it’s an embarrassment to our party.”

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Please Attend Final Hearing on Convention/Caucus Saturday, Dec 20 in San Antonio

December 19, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog

We need as many people as possible to show up at the last committee hearing on the convention/caucus system and sign in against the Texas Two-Step or even testify in person against it. The meeting is in San Antonio, Saturday, December 20 at 10:30 AM. This is the last chance to express your opposition to the Texas Two-Step in person before the committee starts deliberating and making recommendations. Spread the word to your friends in San Antonio and to your friends who are willing to travel to San Antonio Saturday.

Here is the time and location:

December 20, 2008 San Antonio, TX San Antonio Area Progressive Action Coalition (at 7122 San Pedro, Ste 114 (rear of the building next to Ocean Dental) San Antonio, Texas 78216) 10:30 a.m.

Times and Locations for Final Three Primary/Caucus Advisory Committee Hearings

December 9, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog

The following dates for hearings in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio have been posted to the TDP website.

December 17, 2008 Dallas, TX Thurgood Marshall Recreation Center, at 5150 Mark Trail Way, Dallas Texas 75232. 4 p.m.
December 19, 2008 Houston, TX CWA Hall ( at 1730 Jefferson Street, Houston, Texas 77002) 9 a.m.
December 20, 2008 San Antonio, TX San Antonio Area Progressive Action Coalition (at 7122 San Pedro, Ste 114 (rear of the building next to Ocean Dental) San Antonio, Texas 78216) 10:30 a.m.