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.

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

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

Video: Tory Lauterbach Testifying at the TDP Hearing on the Primary-Caucus System in Austin

November 21, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, News & Commentary, Testimony

Tory Lauterbach is president of the Texas College Democrats and a 24-year-old law student at the University of Texas at Austin. She testified to the committee in her personal capacity as a Texas Democrat.

Video of Jim Mattox Testifying Against the Texas Two-Step at Austin Hearing on November 14

November 21, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, News & Commentary, Testimony

Five days before his death on November 19, Jim Mattox testified to the TDP Advisory Committee on the Convention/Caucus. He patiently waited more than two hours for his turn to speak. When his turn finally came, he strongly criticized the Texas Two-Step as an “unfair” system. The second part of his testimony contains some of his best points, so be sure to watch both parts.

Part 1/2

Part 2/2

From the Austin American-Statesman article, “JIM MATTOX: 1943-2008, Self-styled ‘people’s lawyer’ was hard-knuckle fighter in public office“:

Last week, Mattox spoke at an Austin hearing on the Texas Democratic Party’s method of awarding presidential delegates based on a primary vote plus evening caucuses.

“Now let me tell you, folks,” Mattox told a party-appointed panel. “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.”

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas , chairman of the panel, had earlier shushed onlookers when they interrupted or made noise during testimony. But West didn’t object when crowd members rose and applauded Mattox’s remarks.

Bob Gammage to SDEC: “Abolish the Texas Two-Step”

November 12, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, News & Commentary, Testimony

From Robert “Bob” Gammage

November 11, 2008
To: State Democratic Executive Committee of Texas:

Through most of the last 40 years as a lawyer, lawmaker and judge, I have fought along side many other loyal Democrats in Texas and nationally to see that every qualified voter in our state and country is given the opportunity to vote, and to have their vote count equally with those of every other voting citizen.

In 1971 we expanded the franchise to permit young people between 18 and 21 years of age, many of them serving in the military and others exercising all other adult responsibilities, to join their fellow citizens in voting on significant public issues and choosing their elected public officials.The poll tax had already been abolished and the unit rule for selecting delegates had been done away with. Since then, our state has appropriately and proudly expanded the election period and increased the locations in which citizens can cast their ballots, to assure that as many voters as possible have the opportunity to fully participate in our electoral system, and to circumvent the hazards of weather, job-related responsibilities, family obligations, physical infirmities, unavoidable election day absences, and other impediments or inconveniences which historically so often prevented citizens from voting on a single election day

In recent years, however, Texas Democrats have taken a giant step back from the fight for ballot equality by adopting the so-called “Texas Two-Step” system, which enables undemocratic caucuses to determine a third of the delegates who attend our presidential nominating conventions, regardless of the democratically expressed will of the voters who participated in the election itself. This system ignores the very purpose of all the preceding ballot expansion and democratization efforts, by giving an unfair weighted numerical advantage to a small percentage of voters who find it convenient to show up on a single night, after the polls have closed, for a limited number of hours to determine fully one-third of the delegates who will move to the next step of the presidential delegate selection process.

I strongly urge you to abolish the Texas Two-Step process and restore the democratic integrity of our ballot and our delegate selection process.

Sincerely

Bob Gammage
Justice, Supreme Court of Texas (Retired)
Captain, JAGC, USNR (Retired)

Testimony of Pam Durham Given at the Arlington Meeting

October 23, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, Testimony

As a service for those people who have been unable to attend any of the meetings of the Advisory Committeee on the Primary/Caucus, we will post any written testimony that is presented to the committee if we are given a copy of the testimony. If you have presented testimony to the committee and would like us to post it, just send us a copy. We will post all testimony, whether it agrees with our position to End the Texas Two Step or not.

We also call on the committee to put the recordings of the testimony online, so that people who were not present can listen to the recordings.

Below is the testimony of Pam Durham given at the Arlington meeting.

To: the Advisory Committee on Texas Convention/Caucus process

From: Pam Durham, SD 10 National Delegate, Fort Worth

October 17, 2008

Thank you for the opportunity to examine the State Convention/Caucus process for the state of Texas.

I have had the privilege, honor and responsibility of participating in the entire cycle from precinct elections to the national convention.  It is indeed a historical year.  Yet, some of the history that we have made, I do not look forward to repeating to future generations of voters.  As with all flaws and mistakes and errors and abuses, we do now have an opportunity to learn from the errors of our ways and reform our actions for the greater good of the voters of our illustrious state.

I first want to report how proud I am of the Texas delegation of the National Convention.  Throughout the process of the Convention and the preparatory time leading to the convention in Denver, we were able to treat our equally divided group with respect and allow each of us to honor our commitment to the voters that we represented.  Through diligence at the grassroots level, the Texas delegation voted as we were sent to vote for the nominee of our electorates choice for the top of the ticket.  There was no arm-twisting, or acrimony or pressure to change our vote.  We were respected for our opinions and our duty to represent those that sent us.  And, as a result of the hard work at the grassroots level, the pledged delegate count for each of the Presidential candidates rose above the 100% mark! The process worked for the Texas delegation although the final result was not reported on national television.

However, the road leading to the Convention was rocky and full of potholes that derailed too many Texas democratic voters.  Much talk has been raised about the Texas hybrid system stirring up unprecedented voter participation this year.  I beg to differ.  The voter participation surge was prompted by the fact that for the first time in primary history, the Texas voters had an opportunity to impact the primary decision.  The decision of the Presidential nominee wasn’t already a done deal by the time our primary was held as has always happened in the past.  Texas voter opinions counted this time, so Texas as with the rest of the nation, wanted to express our opinion through our vote and have our voices heard and we did that in record numbers.

Therein lies the problem with the Texas two-step, the uniquely Texas hybrid system with both a primary and a caucus.  The voters voices were undermined by an apportionment system that allows certain voters to have not only 2 votes for their Presidential nominee but 3 or more votes for their choice.  The democratic process is built on the principal of one person, one vote.  Yet, in Texas we allot 33 % of our delegates based on the number of voters that participate in the caucus process. In some precincts, 100 participants had the opportunity to elect the same number of delegates that 1000 participants had in another precinct.  Does that mean my precinct convention vote is worth one vote or 10 votes?  How do you reconcile that a select group of voters gets to carry the weight of 33% of the delegates when they are not truly 33% of the total number of voters? There is no practical logic to link apportionment to one person, one vote.

Then, we have the problem of system abuse and gaming.  Yes, we had record numbers of voters in this primary election as well as in the precinct caucuses.  In my own precinct we had 10 times the number of people at our precinct caucus than at any number of caucuses since their inception.  But, how many were left out of the process?  Just on election day, I talked to many voters who were not able to return for an evening caucus—the handicapped and elderly who do not leave their homes after dark, the single parents of school children that could not be gone from home for the 3 or more hours that my precinct caucus demanded or the shift workers who have no control over their schedule, including police and firefighters, or our active military that are away from home attending to our national security.  How is it fair to exclude voter participation by setting up a one time opportunity to have a second chance to pump up the votes for your candidate?  What is democratic about voter exclusion?

On the national level, the response to the caucus system is keep it intact as long as you give the same Federal election voter protection and rights as mandated for the voters at the polls—equal access.  My mandate to Texas Democratic Party is revise the system so that all can participate which would include early voting, mail-in voting, handicap access and bi-lingual, multi-lingual access.

Yes, I have heard the argument that the Texas hybrid system is in place to encourage and reward political activism. It does not hold water for me.  Our hybrid system is yet another way to abuse the power of the vote by focusing it on a favored few.  All too often, this year included, back room political decisions rule over the voters voices.  All too often, this year included, the tawdry practices of political deceit and fraud, override the will of the voter.  We saw the abuses at each and every level of this election cycle in Texas.  Fist-fighting at precinct caucuses, Churches locking precinct caucuses out of the facility, handicapped and elderly left to stand in the cold and dark for hours before being allowed to sign in; not enough paper work to document the precinct convention; not enough voters educated in the process for the documents to be completed correctly and fairly; campaigns teaching voters to bully election officials for the documentation; precinct notes with the candidates name all in the same handwriting—the old sign here and we’ll fill in the blanks later; voters being told we’ve taken the count, you can go now before all the voters are verified and counted;  Then, we move on to Senate District Conventions where convention minutes were stolen; elected state delegates recordings were “lost” in transit and committee member family members for the opposite candidate were written in; electronically scanned precinct minutes at the State level were late in getting back to local level and were so incorrect they could not be used leading to a Credentials nightmare for the Senate District Convention; campaigns dictating to State committees who to nominate and being held hostage in closed door sessions; leadership in the delegation leaving the floor of the State Convention hours before the Convention ended leaving the grassroots to fend for themselves for a very important vote. It was ugly, undemocratic and a Texas voter travesty.

We have lost Texas democrats over this process this year.  Yes, they participated early on.  But, too, too many have said they will not participate as a Democrat again.  The hybrid system has helped to create a new Texas independent of some of our most ardent grassroots workers that were exposed to the ugliness of politics at its worst.  It did not have to happen this way.

It is now time to become the Texas Democratic Party of the 21st century where we do not leave even the appearance of impropriety, where we are transparent and accountable and provide an experience that is equal for every voter.  No excuses about too many people, broken systems, just not prepared.  Take us back to the core values of the democratic process—one person, one vote with all the protections of the Federal election laws.  In the words of our Democratic Party nominee—provide the change we need—to an inclusive, transparent and accountable Texas Democratic Party that respects each and every Texas voter voice.