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

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


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