Posted: March 4, 2008 1:24 PM
In Texas, Democrats Vote Early and Often (Well, Twice Anyway)
It is hard to tell which is more confusing, the way in which Texas allocated its 228 delegates to this summer’s Democratic National Convention or the process by which those delegates will be selected on Tuesday.
Texas operates under a unique system — dubbed the Texas Two-step — that combines a presidential primary and caucus on the same day. The system, developed in the wake of the contentious Democratic convention in 1968, was built to temper the popular party vote by following the general primary with a party leader-controlled caucus.
Democrats vote to elect delegates from the state’s 31 state senate districts. Each senate district’s delegate total is based on Democratic turnout there in the 2004 and 2006 general elections, so not every district has an equal number. The number of district delegates ranges from two to eight; about half have four.
For once, the 35 unpledged super delegates are the easy number to understand. The state’s remaining 193 pledged delegates are elected by the dual system — 126 via the primary and a combination of 42 at-large and 25 party officials during tonight’s caucuses. If you don’t believe us, you can read the rules to awarding delegates for yourself, but we would not recommend it.
So, for a Texas Democrat to have their vote count fully, they must first vote in the primary (polls are open until 7p.m. local time — which equates to 8p.m. EST for the bulk of the state and 9p.m. EST for the western tip of the state) and again at the caucus that follows the primary.
The local party convenes its precinct convention within 15 minutes of the primary polls closing. During this session, the Democrats will elect the remaining 25 percent of pledged delegates at stake from that senate district.
This is where the math kicks in (or one of the times math comes into this system). Say, for example, that a precinct had 20 delegates to award. According to the state rules, approximately 13 of those would be awarded based on the primary vote and the remaining 7 would be based on the caucus vote.
If in that precinct Sen. Hillary Clinton gets 56 percent and Sen. Barack Obama gets 44 percent of the primary vote, Clinton would receive 7 of those delegates and Obama 6. Then all of those people that voted in the precinct would be allowed to participate in the caucus. So, 15 minutes after the polls close, the Democratic voters gather to caucus. If Obama wins that caucus 60 percent to 40 percent, then he would get 4 delegates and Clinton would get 3.
Some party officials worry the caucuses, which traditionally only attracted the most die-hard party activists, could be flooded with newcomers this year.
“The instructions given by the state Democratic party were given to those counties who were not expecting (400) or 500 people participating, who were expecting more like 20 or 30,” Gerry Birnberg, chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party, told The Houston Chronicle.
The unique system will make for some mathematical headaches among the campaigns, party officials and the media Tuesday night and could make for two waves of news — one driven by the easier-to-cover primary results and a second by caucus results as they dribble in to party headquarters.
But despite the confusion, it does create a unique opportunity for Texas voters.
“This is the only place in one election that you can vote twice without going to jail,” the Dallas Morning News quoted former President Bill Clinton as saying while campaigning for his wife in Galveston.
An additional note, in case you feel like you have it all worked out: the delegates selected tonight are actually just headed to the next level of the party meetings, including county and later state conventions where the final slate of delegates will be approved and sent to Denver. So the final tally for the candidates won’t be written in stone until June — up until then it will be a projection of the expected results from the state convention.