On Tuesday night, I arrived at the apartment of Ina Ayliffe at around 6:20pm. While it was our first face-to-face meeting, we had spoken over the telephone when I was making calls to Clinton supporters in my precinct, explaining the “Texas Two-Step” and encouraging participation. At 84, she felt uncomfortable driving at night, and I happily offered her transportation to the caucus.
Unfortunately, Ina was not the only person without a way of getting to the precinct convention. Over the past few weeks, I spoke with many elderly voters with health conditions that made it extremely difficult for them to get out and vote once, let alone twice. In addition, the locations where the precinct conventions were held presented even more challenges for those who actually came. Earlier in the day I had visited my polling location and spoken with the Election Judge. I expressed my concern that there was not enough seating to accommodate voters with conditions that make standing for long periods of time a difficult task. He gave me the number of the property management. I spoke with two people who didn’t have an answer for me and finally left a message that was never returned.
Ina and I arrived at the polling location at 6:30. I was approached by the election judge who informed me that the Precinct Chairman was not going to be able to attend. He needed someone to run the caucus, and despite my complete lack of experience, I accepted the duties as temporary chair. At 7:00 I was handed a packet of materials. I had 15 minutes to review the process before the convention was called to order at 7:15. Getting everyone signed in was complete and utter chaos. The packet contained only two sign-in sheets with a total of 40 spaces for names. 195 people were present. I made sure that supporters of both Clinton and Obama were involved in monitoring the process and verifying that voters were eligible. Signing in was slow and tedious and many people became frustrated and angry, but we did the best we could with the resources we were given. In the end, I believe our results were fair and accurate; however, as confident as I may be in my own abilities, there is no freakin’ way that I, or anyone else without official training, should be in charge of something so significant. Period.
Later that night, I joined up with the Clinton staff to watch the returns come in, and I quickly realized that the problems at my convention were nothing compared to others. From stories of sign-in sheets being passed around without supervision and individuals signing in multiple times, to caucuses being held outside with over 900 people, almost every person there had a horror story to tell. I have no doubt accusations from both sides concerning voter intimidation, broken rules, and inconsistencies in results will continue to pour in throughout the state in the days to come.
The system in Texas needs to change. Even if there had been qualified election workers managing and overseeing the process and minimizing the unbelievably large room for error, it wouldn’t change the fact that the process silences certain groups of voters. It is un-Democratic and un-American that elderly, sick, disabled, or evening shift workers who are unable to attend the convention don’t get the full representation of their votes.
The good news is that many people found a way to the polls despite the obstacles. When the convention was over and I felt like I could collapse from exhaustion, Ina was ready to celebrate. As we drank our margaritas, we talked about how amazing it was to see so many Democrats in Texas standing up for their candidate of choice and getting involved in the process. I just wish that every single person had that same opportunity.