This post comes late in the day as I've been trying to recover from last night while still getting in a little bit of homeschool. Call it caucus exhaustion.
Last night our precinct caucus took until 2 AM and was conducted for the most part, outdoors. Unbelievable right? And yet this story was repeated across the state. Our precinct polling place is a small polling place (maybe 800 square feet) that is used for 8 different precincts. When we arrived earlier in the day to vote in the Primary, we stood in line for about an hour or so, something we expected. But we were astonished at the small size of the building. Having just moved to this area recently, this was our first time voting here. So it was with some trepidation that we returned at 7 PM for the caucus.
For those who are unfamiliar with the caucus process in Texas, you must return to your polling place after the Primary has closed in order to sign in under your candidate of choice. Once everyone from that precinct has signed in, delegates are elected to be sent on to the County and then the State Convention where final delegates are chosen for the National Convention. One third of the total delegates from Texas are determined in this process. Each precinct has a specific number of delegates based on the size of the precinct, and the candidates are assigned delegates based on the percentage of supporters that return to caucus. There are lots of regulations governing this process along with how many delegates are assigned to any given precinct. You can read more about these rules here.
The caucus is supposed to start at 7:15, or as soon as the last voter in line for the Primary at 7:00 has cast their ballot. In our case, the last ballot was cast shortly before 10 PM causing everyone who had returned for the caucus to wait. Outside. In the mud. As temperatures dropped from the mid 50s down to the upper 30s, this was a test of resolve for many. In our area, there were a lot of Obama supporters; I would guess well over a thousand people. We had a much smaller group of Hillary Clinton supporters, but we were all determined to stick it out. As the night wore on, many Obama supporters gave up and went home. I'm sure the TAKS test being today was a factor for some who have kids. We knew that the more of them that went home, the higher the percentage of delegates we would have. In the end, only a couple of us left.
When the Primary voting was close to being done, we were grouped by precinct. Ours, number 2031, was told to meet "over there by the streetlight." Others were told to meet "in that parking lot," or "by that building." We waited here for more than an hour while the papers required (the 'packet') for the caucus were being prepared: essentially the list of everyone who voted in the Primary for that precinct. When this was close to being ready, we were called to come get into two 'lines' depending on whether we were 'Today Voters' or 'Early Voters.' This was at around 11 PM. After maybe another hour, we were able to actually start signing in. At this point, we had about 150 people left from our precinct. Two other precincts were about the same size as us, and we were allowed to caucus before them. The other precincts were much smaller and had gone before. Just after 1 AM, the last voter signed in. With only around 40 people remaining, it was time to choose delegates. What had started out as *guesstimating* 200 Obama supporters to our 22 became just over 120 to 22. That's a jump from 10% to nearly 20%. We had gained an extra delegate by sticking it out. In the end, myself and my husband were nominated as alternate delegates; we chose additional alternates in case we were assigned additional delegates after the audit by the precinct judge. It was 2 AM: time to go home.
Now for the fun part: the "irregularities." Or, why our caucus rolls are being audited by the precinct judge. Early on, after we had been allowed to line up, a shouting match broke out about how to follow the rules. We called the police at this point to request assistance, just in case. Keep in mind that it was cold, there are no restaurants within walking distance, and no public restroom. Before we received our 'packet,' there was discussion about just signing our names and votes on notebook paper, rather than waiting for the official voting documents, so everyone could go home. Apparently the two other large precincts were doing just that after contacting the Obama campaign and being told that this is what the precincts should do, and that they (Obama's people) would make sure it would be counted. Our precinct was discussing this, loudly and with much opposition, when our 'packet' finally came out, making the discussion moot. Another instance occurred which required my husband to run and get the police from his post on the corner. Apparently, people that were not from our precinct were signing in on our rolls. All while our Hillary supporting precinct chair was away from the table for a moment. Highly illegal. The people at the table, all Obama supporters, were a little more diligent after this. After everyone had signed in, questions were raised, to much shouting, as to how well the voters were checked to verify that they had voted in the Primary. Because you can't caucus if you haven't voted. This issue was not resolved last night, hence the selection of additional alternates for Hillary. Watching the news today, I've seen reports of multiple "irregularities" committed by Obama supporters all over the state. Knowing what our neighbor precincts were being told by the campaign, I wonder how many of these "irregularities" were carried out on instructions from Obama's people.
All in all it was a highly educational experience for us; we were literally living history. And it was interesting enough to draw at least two news crews to our polling place. We'll count it as our son's 'Civics' requirement. He was a real trooper, and I should thank the fellow Hillary supporter who let him use the bathroom at her house down the street. It was also exciting for my daughter, currently enrolled in college government. She kept us updated regularly via phone about the results as more precincts reported results. Every time my phone would ring, our group would gather round with bated breath. The excitement built as Hillary pulled from a little bit behind to ahead by more and more throughout the night. As other supporters said repeatedly last night, "Hillary, you go girl!"