Embedded In Texas - 1st Impressions, This Will Be Crazy


cross-posted to Jack & Jill Politics

Some quick notes on what I've seen so far in Texas. Overall, my mission here is very different than when I rolled to Virginia. Then, it was about convincing undecideds. Here, I've arrived later, and it's about turning out the vote and keeping a watchful eye on election day.

Within my first two hours of arriving in Texas, it was clear that the dual primary-caucus system, known as "The Texas Two-Step," has the potential to be a major clusterf---. I'm staying with some college friends in Desoto who are on Obama's state finance committee. They warned me that the caucus locations were designed to handle 50 to 100 people, but hundreds and perhaps thousands are expected to show up. The caucuses may need to be moved outside to the parking lot.

Voter enthusiasm and turnout on the Democratic side is just bananas, and I see why my friends are nervous about the caucus logistics. Here are some exciting and frightening numbers compiled by Burnt Orange Report, a Texas progressive blog:
Total In- Person And Mail Voters
2004: 114,114
2008: 698,992
% increase: 512 percent

Those numbers for Dallas are
2004: 9.568
2008: 98,825
% increase: 932 percent

Yes, you read those numbers correctly. Here in Dallas, we have seen roughly a ONE THOUSAND PERCENT increase in the early voting (ended Feb 29). Tomorrow is going to be absolutely bananas.

After catching up with my hosts, we rolled to Costco and purchased some food for me to take to the Dallas campaign headquarters. I also grabbed some bottled water. You can't fight without energy right?

Walking into the Dallas HQ, as an out of town stranger, was a good test of the Obama campaign's organizational skill. I walked in and yelled, "I have a car full of food and water! Can I get some help unloading?" Four men instantly came over and followed me to my car, and we emptied it in one trip. One was a local. One came from New York. A third rolled from Fargo, North Dakota. Yes, Fargo! When I returned to the office, I signed in as an out-of-state volunteer and waited a minute while they got me to someone who'd figure out how to deploy me.

Another in-charge type person asked me what my availability was for the week then handed me a detailed "Texas For Obama: Out-Of-State Volunteer Guide." This was much more comprehensive than anything I got in Virginia. These people were on it.

While I waited to meet field organizer I'd been assigned to, I was given a list of local voters to contact via phone. They handed me a script and one of several charged, pre-paid cell phones.

Our field organizer is Jeff. He worked South Carolina for six months before that primary and another state I can't recall. He's a paid Obama organizer and arrived in Texas almost immediately after Super Tuesday. He called a meeting of volunteers under his command for the next two days and talked to us about election day. This is the scary part.

I am a reasonably intelligent, quantitative, college-educated citizen. I cannot understand this caucus system. Jeff was talking about precinct chairs and Robert Rules of Order and manning the lists and votes per person and percentages. I mean, it's ridiculously confusing, and I am expecting some horrors. Iowa knows how to caucus. They've been doing it for a while, but this is completely new to these folks. One of our out of state volunteers worked the caucuses in Nevada and told of nightmare scenarios in which Clinton caucusers closed the doors early and denied people an opportunity to vote. Which brings me to my next point.

We got word of what to look out for from the Clinton folks. Again, Burnt Orange provides a good reference in Clinton Caucus Disruption/Vote Suppression
The Dallas Morning News is reporting that Clinton campaign training materials regarding Tuesday night's caucuses ominously advise supporters to take control of caucus sign-in sheets and vote tallies especially "if our supporters are outnumbered."

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[Clinton caucus training material] goes on to say, "If our supporters are outnumbered, ask the Temporary Chair if one of our supporters can serves as the Secretary, in the interest of fairness.


"The control of the sign-in sheets and the announcement of the delegates allotted to each candidate are the critical functions of the Chair and Secretary. This is why it is so important that Hillary supporters hold these positions."
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Now there can be only one purpose in trying to control the tally of votes under circumstances in which a campaign knows it's outnumbered, that it will lose an honest counting of the votes:  to alter the true vote. To cheat. To steal. To suppress the votes of Texas caucus attendees and subvert the caucus process.

The phrase, "if our supporters are outnumbered," means, in simpler language, "If we lose the vote, take control of the vote tally and change the numbers."

Scary right? Commenter Piranha also pointed out two posts (one from dKos and one from the Dallas Morning News blog ) that highlight these dirty tactics. Piranha thank you so much! The Obama folks and trainers in Dallas are aware of the situation. And for the record, our caucus training packs do not call for us to "prevent the opposition from holding leadership positions" as the Clinton guide does. We are witnessing the old vs. new politics in action. It's amazing to see up close, and I'm excited and scared to see what will go down.

Many of us will be deployed to caucus precinct locations to watch out for attempts just like this. Our mandate: greet Obama supporters, call those who haven't arrived, ensure fair access to the signin list, verify vote counts, ensure fair access to the caucus location and fair voting for precinct captains and secretaries -- not appointments out of some vague appeal to "fairness." In many ways, the secretary is more important because that person holds the sheets and vote tallies. We've seen these things disappear in the past. For any other Obama volunteers reading this, call 877-48-OBAMA, if you witness shadiness.

Reports from canvassers I spoke with... Generally positive in the South Dallas area. South Dallas is like any other urban "south," that is, rough. Lots of poverty. Lots of pit bulls. Lots of enthusiasm for Obama and some horrible loose dog stories that I'll find out more about today.

This was longer than I thought. I have to report to my staging area now.