Last night, my wife and I tried to participate in the Democratic Party caucus in Travis County, in the most consequential Democratic primary in this state, probably ever. To call it a disaster would be to seriously malign the reputation of other disasters. And apparently, we were not alone.
Confusion, chaos and controversy ruled Central Texas’ precinct caucuses Tuesday night.
Precincts struggled with a shortage of sign-up sheets. School gymnasiums, cafeterias and libraries overflowed with voters. Precinct leaders accustomed to turnouts in the dozens were faced with hundreds of people lining up to help choose a presidential candidate on a day when record numbers of Texans had packed polling places statewide.
Many voters were confused. Precinct officials were frazzled. The Austin Police Department was called to one precinct after a confrontation between voters.
Here’s our experience.
My wife (who voted earlier in the day and was making her 2nd trip) and I arrived — per the party’s instructions — prepared to sign in after the voting had ended, then leave. I had left work about an hour early to go vote. We didn’t have a babysitter so we had our two sons (2 and 11 mos.) in tow.
After waiting outside in the cold for about 30-40 minutes, we were moved into the elementary school’s gym. There was no traffic plan. People wandered in and milled around without really knowing what to do or where to go. After about 20 minutes of that, the "announcements" started, which seemed really more like impromptu remarks — but no one had thought to plug in a microphone, so people in the back couldn’t hear, and the instructions had to be repeated — shouted — over and over.
After waiting a while, we were told we had to wait because a rule needed to be clarified. Let me go ahead and repeat that. Hundreds of working people, many of whom have brought small children, are at this point still waiting around while the people running the caucus looked up the rules. Unreal.
After another 15-20 minutes, we were told that we would start the sign-in procedure — that should’ve started as soon as we arrived. But because there was no traffic plan, the guy running the caucus didn’t know who’d come in first, so he randomly picked a side to start signing in. And naturally, he picked the side of the room that had come in last, without really explaining how they were to approach the table. Needless to say, people weren’t thrilled with the injustice of this, so everyone just broke for the tables, creating a gigantic traffic jam.
Oh yeah — and for a gym full of hundreds of people (I’m guessing close to 500, if not more), there were only 2 tables taking signatures. Nice.
At this point, someone finally figures out that a microphone is available and turns it on. We’re now told that we might have to wait ’till after all the signatures are collected, despite what the Travis County Democratic Party had told us all along.
Now, the Obama people start shouting that the Hillary people are challenging the rules and that we’ll have to stay if we want our signature to count. Then a guy gets back on the mic and reads the rules aloud (the rules we all already know) that no, you just have to sign in and then you can leave. But the Obama people keep telling us that we have to stay. It’s never clear exactly who’s right or who’s in charge.
Finally, the babies are totally melting down and there’s still practically no movement in the line. So we just leave in frustration.
The excuses I hear on the way out are astonishing. "We never expected this kind of turnout" was my favorite. Yeah, no one could’ve predicted that a lot of people would show up in the most meaningful Democratic primary in this state’s history, in a year when over one million Democrats voted early. Never saw that one coming!
Here’s how totally clueless our county chair is:
"For all the problems that may be occurring, it’s a good thing," Chris Elliott said. "It’s an incredible thing to watch, and we may never see it again in our lifetimes."
Nice going, Chris. The most significant election in your lifetime and you completely screw it up. And excuse me — it’s not a "good thing" that the caucuses were a total clusterfuck. Elliott needs to do the honorable thing and step down after this debacle. What a disgrace.
Look, this wasn’t some off-year election for county clerk in some tiny little Hill County Town. This is Travis County, the seat of the Democratic party in the 2nd biggest state in the union. And unless we get our shit together as a party, this is the kind of thing that will keep us from winning elections.
And you know what? We’ll deserve to lose them.