Texas has an unusual primary voting process. If you've tuned in to CNN or similar, you've possibly caught references to a "caucus" that occurs when the polls close and listened to newscasters stumble a little over our confusing and complicated voting procedure. You've probably heard something about a Texas caucus.
Let me set the record straight.
I'll tell you what's it's like to vote as a Democrat in Texas, which is different than voting as a Republican (and I don't mean people burning donkey signs in your yard), and I'll explain what's happening behind the individual voting experience.
A personal voting experience
I live outside of Houston in a small town. The print and broadcast news has been warning---in a near threatening way---of long lines and waits at the precincts (polling places).
They were wrong for me. No long lines or lengthy waits.
I hope their dire tones haven't discouraged voters. It doesn't seem to have in our area. The election judge was excited, "It's been really brisk business all day," he told me, "I can't think when I've seen such a turnout."
When you walk in an election judge asks you, "Republican or Democrat?"
Note: Texas has open primaries. This means you can switch parties and choose which party primary you vote in every two years. However, once you pick, you may only vote for that party's candidates. In other words, I had to select among all the Democrats competing against one another for the nomination for each office up for election. If a Republican decides to "play the system" and vote Democrat, he or she can only vote among the Democrats, and will have no option to vote for any Republicans.
I said Democrat and was sent to the left side of the room. In my line, there were easily ten or so people consistently. There were two on the Republican side.
Note: This gels with the early voting numbers I've received: Democrats are voting 2:1 over Republicans. That's a record for the area, which has Democratic voter registration and participation up an average of 1000% percent. At the precinct today I joked, "I always knew this town wasn't 100% Republican; there are Democrats, they've just been uninspired!"
After I showed my voter registration card and photo ID, the election judge signed me in and I signed in as well. I got two slips of paper confirming my right to vote.
One I keep (see sample image to the left). I have to bring that back with me to the Precinct Convention, which begins at 7:15 tonight, fifteen minutes after polls close at 7, or after the final vote has been cast (you can still vote as long as you check in to the line by 7 p.m.). (The Precinct Convention is what the reporters are erroneously calling a caucus.)
Don't believe any news out of Texas about winners before tomorrow. Votes alone aren't the full story.
Note: About Texas delegates. We send
228 delegates to the national convention. Of those, 193 are "pledged" delegates chosen through our hybrid primary/caucus system. Of those, 126 are chosen by the primary vote and 67 are chosen by the convention/caucus system. The other 35 are "superdelegates."
After I turned in my confirmation of right to vote to the second election judge, he gave me a unique code that I used to access the ballot machine to cast my votes (no dangling chads possible here). Then I confirmed my votes and cast my ballot.
That's part one of two parts to the Texas primary voting process.
Part two is the convention, which has three steps to it.
Step 1: Precinct convention. Each Democrat who voted today must return to the precinct tonight for the convention. At this point, we elect our delegates. It's possible even for a regular person (such as me) to become a delegate. These delegates represent our presidential pick at the county convention (aka senatorial district convention).
Step 2: County/Senatorial district convention. On March 29, precinct convention delegates gather and from this groups, the county/senatorial district delegates are elected for the state convention.
Step 3: State convention. On June 6 in Austin, the 67 national delegates will be allocated to the Presidential candidates based on the preferences of the State Convention delegates.
That's when you'll know for sure which way Texas went in the Democratic primary.
The Texas Democrats began using the split primary and convention process in 1976. Former Dallas Democratic Party Chairman Ken Molberg explained a bit of the history in a Dallas Morning News interview on March 2:
Since 1976, Texas Democrats have used a hybrid primary and convention (caucus) process to select their delegates to the national convention. Roughly 65 percent of the pledged delegates are selected through the primary vote; the remainder is selected through the convention system that begins at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday at one's precinct polling location.
Admittedly, this "prima-caucus" system has not had vigorous use since the contested 1988 presidential primary. But most longtime Texas Democrats are no strangers to this process.
Prior to 1976, Texas had a pure caucus system. The change was made to allow the general electorate a greater opportunity to participate in the party's nominating process while preserving and recognizing the traditional role of party activists.
Update 3: The 5:00 p.m. Report
Texas does offer early voting, even for primaries. Although I heard only 11% of registered Texas voters took advantage of this, I haven't heard from anyone about long waits at precincts. (The news is reporting rather dramatically, though. However, I can't seem to find anyone who has had an experience that matches the news.)
At our precinct, the captain estimated there had been about 300 Democrats in to vote during her shift.
Note: To put that number in perspective, I believe there are about 1000 households in my town, so 300 in one day---not counting early and absentee voting---is a fair percentage.
The precinct captain---Democrat---tried to speak with most people, and says a good number of Republicans confessed to voting in the Democratic primary. When she asked why, they said it had nothing to do with R*sh L!mbaugh and his appeal. They said they felt it was seriously possible that a Democrat would win, and in that case they had opinions about who the candidate ought to be, even if in the election they would vote Republican.
The precinct captain said her informal polls showed voters leaning heavily towards Obama. She had only three "RSVPs" from Hillary supporters for the convention tonight.
The election judge said a large number of absentee ballots had been requested.
This is all completely informal and only representative of my small town, and the convention information from today doesn't reflect the early voters.
We leave in about an hour to go back up for the convention. I'll report back from that, if I can, or after it, later tonight.
Check back for more information...