From the Texas Tribune “Texplainer: What’s the “Texas Two-Step” and Why is it Gone?”:
The Democratic Party is getting rid of the “Texas Two-Step” voting system. What does this mean for the 2016 presidential election?
While Democratic parties in the other 49 states and Washington, D.C., hold either a primary or a caucus to nominate a presidential candidate, Texas has both — or it at least did before last month, when the Democratic National Committee forced the state to choose one.
The hybrid system, called the “Texas Two-Step,” was a unique way of apportioning delegates to the state’s Democratic presidential nominating convention. Here’s how it worked: A primary election allocated 75 percent of Texas’ about 250 delegates based on state senate district voting results. The other “at-large” delegates, not tied to any district, were allocated at Democratic caucuses held across the state after the primary election. Any Texas Democrat could vote in the primary and a voter had to vote in the primary, or during the early voting period, to participate in the caucus.
In a Democratic primary election, voters used a secret ballot to select their presidential candidate. The caucus, though, was similar to a town hall meeting; supporters gathered to discuss party platforms and choose delegates for their candidates. It depended on getting a candidate’s supporters in the right place at the right time. The percentage of votes a candidate received at the caucus determined the percentage of at-large delegates allocated to that candidate. Here’s a simplified example: If 100 people showed up at a Burnet County caucus that had 10 delegates to allocate and 50 voted for Candidate A, 30 voted for Candidate B and 20 voted for Candidate C, then the candidates would walk away with 5 delegates, 3 delegates and 2 delegates, respectively. The more supporters who showed up for a certain candidate, the more delegates that candidate received. The total delegate count was the number a candidate received from the primary and from the caucus, but to be eligible for any delegates, candidates had to receive at least 15 percent of the vote.
But now the two-step system is gone. For the 2016 election, delegates will only be allocated via primary election. Three-quarters of delegates were already determined by the primary vote. The only change will be how the 25 percent of at-large delegates are divided. Instead of caucus votes, the number will be determined by the statewide vote. Why did the DNC make Texas change its system? “The Rules and Bylaws Committee review found that the complex two-step system that Texas previously followed had the potential to confuse voters,” DNC spokeswoman Miryam Lipper said in a statement.
Now that the about 250 delegates will be allocated on the same day, Texas will be the largest prize of all the Super Tuesday Democratic primary elections on March 1.
The two-step had garnered complaints, especially after the 2008 election. Barack Obama’s campaign informed voters of the caucus’ importance, so they turned out to support him. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but because of the primary/caucus hybrid, Obama won more presidential delegates and claimed victory in Texas, leading some to call the system undemocratic. Additionally, the popularity of the 2008 election brought thousands of new voters to the caucuses and overwhelmed the voting process, strengthening the case against the Texas system. Some have also criticized the two-step for discriminating against the elderly, soldiers and others who cannot physically come to a caucus.
But Democratic Party leaders in Texas wanted to keep the two-step because they say it encourages voter engagement. When manpower determines who wins the caucus delegates, supporters have an incentive to turn out in large numbers. “Our argument is that we see a lot more participation and a lot more party building when people would actually come to the caucuses in person,” said former state Rep. Glen Maxey, who now works for the Texas Democratic Party.
The change wasn’t a complete surprise. Texas Democratic Party leaders say the system has been on thin ice for a while. The Texas system was grandfathered in and DNC officials had been telling the state for years it would have to choose either a primary or a caucus. Texas applied for a waiver for the 2008 and 2012 elections to keep the two-step. Maxey traveled to Washington, D.C., last month to advocate for the hybrid system in front of a DNC rules committee, but the request was denied.
The two-step system has been in place since 1976, state party leaders said, when Democrats added a primary to the existing caucus. Before 2008, the process had not received much scrutiny because the primary races weren’t close and the party usually knew who the nominee would be before the primary election.
Texas Republicans tried to create their own two-tiered process, similar to the two-step, for the 2016 election, but its national committee rejected the proposal. Like the Democrats, the Republicans will allocate delegates based on primary voting results.
Bottom line: The average Democratic voter won’t notice a huge change without the two-step system. Caucuses will no longer determine the nominee and the Texas primary becomes more important nationwide, especially on Super Tuesday.
The state Democratic Party said it must abandon its traditional – but sometimes complex and confusing – primary process called the Texas Two-Step.
The national party rejected the Texas plan last Friday, leaving state party leadership to revise the process in favor of a straightforward vote.
The Texas primary next year falls on March 1 and is part of the Super Tuesday balloting, in which Texas will have the largest treasure trove of delegates among the 12 states voting.
Under the new plan, voters in the Texas Democratic Party will simply go to the polls, and candidates receiving a baseline of 15 percent of the vote will receive a proportionate number of delegates to the national convention.
Previously, Democratic voters cast ballots during the day, and then could return to the polling place after 7 p.m. to caucus. The rules stated that 65 percent of delegates were decided by the vote and another 35 percent were awarded by the decisions of those who returned to caucus.
The process gave the most motivated voters more leverage in the delegate selection.
But in 2008, when turnout mushroomed in the primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Democratic precincts were overwhelmed with both voters and the throngs who returned to caucus. The process was chaotic in many places and widely criticized.
Clinton ended up winning the election portion, but Obama evened up the contest through his power among caucus-goers. Eventually, the delegates were split 65 for Clinton and 61 for Obama.
Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Crystal Perkins said it was unfortunate that the “Texas Two-Step will not take place this election cycle.”
But she acknowledged, “Under the new plan, individual Democratic primary voters will have more power in the selection of their nominee.”
“Texas Democrats will have an important voice in selecting that nominee, and the winner of the Texas Democratic primary will score a definitive victory in 2016,” she said.
The Texas Democratic Party could stop using the Texas Two-Step system without seeking a change in the Texas Election Code through the Texas Legislature. TDP could adopt a system of allocating all pledged delegates based on the results of the popular vote just by changing its own rules and adopting an appropriate National Delegate Selection Plan for 2012. It is not necessary to go through the Texas Legislature to end the Texas Two-Step.
§ 191.007. ALLOCATION OF DELEGATES. Each political party holding a presidential primary election shall adopt a rule for allocating delegates based on the results of the presidential primary election. At least 75 percent of the total number of delegates who are to represent this state at the party’s national presidential nominating convention, excluding delegates allocated among party and elected officials, shall be allocated in accordance with the rule among one or more of the candidates whose names appear on the presidential primary election ballot and, if applicable, the uncommitted status.
There are a total of 228 delegates from Texas to the National Democratic Convention. 35 are superdelegates and 25 are pledged party and elected leaders. 228 minus 60 leaves 168 delegates who are not allocated among party and elected officials. 75 percent of 168 is 126, which is exactly the number of delegates currently elected at the senatorial district level based on the popular vote in the senatorial district.
The key phrase in the Election Code is “at least 75 percent.” The TDP could simply change its rules if it decided to raise the number of delegates that are allocated based on the results of the presidential primary election to 100 percent of the total number of delegates who are to represent Texas at the party’s national presidential nominating convention.
8. (a) At least 75% of the base number of Delegates, not including designated Party and Elected Official Delegates, shall be elected by Senatorial District Caucuses at the State Convention. The exact number (between 75% and 100%) to be so elected shall be determined by majority vote of the SDEC at its meeting in January of presidential years and shall be included in the official Call to the State Convention of that year.
According to an InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion Research poll conducted on 02.28.08, people who are 65 and over are 26.1 percent of Texas Democratic Primary voters.
The question that needs to be answered by Senator West’s committee is whether elderly voters also constitute 26.1 percent of caucus goers. If they do not, then we can conclude that there are significant barriers to them attending caucuses that many of them are unable to overcome. Elderly voters can vote by mail or during early voting during the primary, but in order to participate in the caucus, they have to appear in person at 7:15pm on a Tuesday night. This presents insurmountable obstacles for many older voters, who may not drive at night and who may have health issues that prevent them from attending caucuses. Many people older than 85 were part of “the greatest generation”. We need a system that ensures that their votes count equally.
According to a 2003 report by the Texas Department on Aging:
■ Over 2.7 million Texans are age 60 or older.
■ Older Texans are relatively young; an estimated 66 percent of the older population is younger than 75.
■ 34 percent of the older population is 75 or older, or 918,000 people.
■ Texans 60-plus are projected to total 8.1 million by 2040, a 193 percent increase from 2000. By 2040, the 60-plus population is projected to comprise 23 percent of the total Texas population.
■ The 60-plus population will itself grow older. In 2000, the 85-plus population totaled over 237,000; by 2040, this population is projected to reach about 831,000, a 249.4 percent increase.
InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion Research
29 and under: 11%
65 and over: 26.1%
People who work evenings or long hours during the day are another group that has problems attending the caucuses. While there is a statute in Texas that requires employers to allow employees to take off work to attend caucuses, the reality is that many evening workers miss the caucuses because they do not want to ask their bosses for time off.
One of the reasons for the reluctance to ask off of low wage workers is that they lack power in the workplace. Barbara Ehrenreich addressed the pressures faced by low wage workers in her book, “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America“. A low wage worker may be asked to find a replacement for their shift if they want off. While the law prohibits this, someone working a low wage job knows that if they ask off for the caucuses, the next week they may have to ask off again for another personal reason or the week before they may have had to ask off for one reason or another, so their boss may say well you just had off last week.
Other people may not work in the evenings, but they may still have missed the caucuses because they had to get up early and work all day, some doing physically demanding jobs. They could have voted early at their convenience, but they may not have had the energy after a long day to attend a caucus at 7:15 PM that might last several hours. Low wage workers are also more likely to have trouble hiring a babysitter, so that they can attend the caucuses.
People whose jobs take them out of town on caucus night are also not able to attend a caucus.
Larry Romo, Texas Democratic Veterans Chairman says, “The caucus system discriminates against some of our military and their families, the Texans that are fighting for our Country in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also discriminates against Texans that are in the military or family members of the military serving our Country in other states or countries. They cannot have a voice in the caucus. This is undemocratic and unpatriotic. Change the system to let their votes count!”
Members of the military who are stationed overseas are able to request a ballot by mail for the primary, but they are not able to attend the caucuses. One of the issues the West Committee will need to investigate is how many members of the military requested and received a ballot by mail. We can assume that if military members voted by mail that they were not able to attend the caucus, so their votes were not counted equally as those people on the home front who were able to “vote twice” by attending the caucuses after voting in the primary.
In “Bringing Voting Rights to Military and Overseas Voters,” report author Tova Wang, Democracy Fellow at The Century Foundation, explains how difficult it is for military and overseas voters to vote, examines the problems encountered in making sure that their votes are counted, and suggests reforms for both easing the procedural problems and improving turnout among this often neglected group of voters.
According to the report, the biggest problem confronting overseas and military voters in the 2008 nominating system is the caucuses. More than one third of the states plan to have a nominating contest that is a caucus or convention for at least one of the two parties. Caucuses do not allow absentee ballots, and mandate personal attendance. As a consequence, they completely exclude members of the armed services stationed overseas or away from home within the United States, voters who are working or studying abroad, and voters fulfilling government contracts, such as for the Department of Defense, the State Department, or USAID; similarly, the families of these individuals living away from home also cannot participate.
In addition to the military members on active duty currently stationed overseas, the West Committee should also determine how many former military members who are now past retirement age and were unable to attend the caucuses. Many elderly people do not like to drive at night or they may have health issues that prevent them from activities that go into the late evening. Many precincts conventions on March 5 lasted several hours. Many former military members who are now in their 70s or above fought for their country in their youth. Those who fought in World War II have been called “The Greatest Generation”. Veterans and military members have earned the right to have their votes counted equally. The TDP needs a system that ensures that they all have the ability to participate fully in the delegate selection process.
In 1988, Texas Democrat Scott Cobb was in the military stationed in Europe. Cobb says, “I was able to request a ballot by mail, but there was no way that I could have attended the caucuses in 1988, which was the first year of the Texas hybrid caucus system. That year, one candidate won the primary and another candidate won the caucuses. I had organized my precinct in the 1984 caucuses, so I knew how important it was to attend the caucuses”.
Caucuses, as opposed to primaries, by their very structure violate fundamental principles of voting rights. Their time-consuming, inflexible, Byzantine procedures discourage broad participation, presenting substantial barriers to the right to vote. It is not that the caucuses violate the Constitution—they are run by the parties, not the states, and do not violate voting rights as a matter of law. Rather, because of their exclusionary nature, they go against some of the core values we express when we talk about voting rights, such as the fundamental nature of the right, equality of opportunity to participate in the process, and fair access to the ballot.
Download the full article in PDF format from The Century Foundation, First Published 10/23/2007