It's taken me a couple of days to get over the trauma of voting in the Texas Democratic Primary. Start the banjo music in your head, and I'll try to give you the short version that is worth telling.
If you're unfamiliar with the so-called "Texas Two-Step", you're not alone. Apparently, only about a hundred or so Texans are familiar with the process, either, and one can only assume that they all planed vacations during this time to avoid the chaos.
We have early voting here in Texas, so I actually voted back on Feb 5th. My wife, on the other hand, was not so fortunate. To foreshadow the day to come, she tried three separate times to vote, and neither of us got home from caucusing until 10pm.
Her day started early. She though she'd get a jump on things by running out before work to our normal polling place down the street. She returned shortly thereafter stating that they were out of ballots and the one e-voting booth they had was broken. Okay. Mistakes happen. Life goes on. She'll try again.
Later that day, she goes back, waits through the line, and finally gets to the registration desk. The woman, without asking, stamps her voter registration card "Republican" and hands her a ballot. That would be fine, except my wife is voting as a Democrat this election.
"Oh honey, this is a Republican-only polling place," the lady said. Shocked, My wife asked where might a Democrat go to vote. "Oh, somewhere in Little Elm, I think. Next!"
Two things: 1) we live in Frisco. 2) We've voted in this particular fire station for every election to date, so this is quite a shock.
So, my wife came home. Not one to become a Disenfranchised White Woman, she and her mother headed off to Little Elm to where our precinct is located. A couple of hours later, she came back, victorious, describing the scene.
Now, Little Elm was until recently one of those sleeply little one-street towns with a satellite dish and a Corvette in front of every double-wide. Now it's a sprawling suburban city with a satellite dish and a Corvette in front of every McMansion. One problem, they haven't handled their growth at all. Needless to say, Traffic Control is not high on their list of priorities. In fact, I think it falls somewhere below Indoor Plumbing. So most of their adventure was spent getting to the polling place and sitting in traffic while the one police officer let one car into the parking lot for every car that left. Thus, the line to vote literally stretched on for miles and left a carbon footprint the size of...well, Texas.
So that's the vote. Now, in the Texas Democratic Primary, you apparently go back later to caucus. Very interested in the process, and realizing this would probably be the only time we would get to do this, my wife and I set out an hour early to participate.
Good thing, because had we left earlier, we would have sat in a spot roughly four cars closer to the polling place. Nice try. We literally sat motionless for 30 minutes. We're talking shut-the-engine-off-and-get-out-of-the-car-and-walk-around motionless. The astounding thing was that we were at least three miles from the polling place.
Telling ourselves we made an honest effort, we turned around and headed south. For the next two or so miles, the line of cars stretched on. Imagine the line of cars trying to leave New Orleans before Katrina, and you'll get an idea of what this was like. On our way south, we passed the place where I actually voted early (which, by the way, was neither the aforementioned fire station, nor the polling place in Little Elm). Here, they had a sign on the door pointing us to yet another location about two miles away.
So we head on over to a local church (they have one or two of those here, you know). I drop my wife off and set off to find a parking spot in the adjacent county. I walk up to witness a church filled to about 5x capacity with a line out the door about 100 feet long.
Let's put this in perspective. In a typical Primary, about 25 people show up to caucus. With so much interest in this election, everyone who voted showed up to caucus, so the poor volunteers who were armed with nothing more than a faxed set of instructions had to manage the chaos.
Now while big-D Democrats have many things going for them, organization and communication are not among them. To deal with the volume, the volunteers resorted to simply copying sign-up sheets and having everyone sign their name and indicate who they supported.
So in the end, the caucus amounted to nothing more than voting twice in one day. Normally, this would land you in jail, but here it's called a Primary Election. None of the normal caucus activities were to be found. No chanting, no speeches, no convincing, no head-counting. Just a ridiculously disorganized effort to get people to put their names on another piece of paper.
So we went and got ice cream.
On our way home, we decided to give Little Elm another try. Fortunately, the miles-long line had shrunk to a mile-long line of cars. And fortunately, my wife learned a trick or two in her previous outing. Armed with the Tom Tom and her smarts, we made our way to the polling place through back roads (yes, Little Elm has back roads) and walked the last half-mile.
This is when we were greeted with the sight of several thousand people standing in clumps out in the parking lot and adjacent muddy field. Attempts to reach any hotline or the TDC headquarters was met only with a busy signal. The website was hammered out of existence. So once again, the solution to dealing with the crowds was to have everyone simply sign the sheets and "let the party bosses deal with the mess." (The volunteer's quote, not mine.)
By the time we were done, it was just shy of 10pm, and we headed home weary and a little mystified at how the process we just experienced in any way represents a small-d democratic process.
I'm left wondering, like my 5-year-old daughter asked, why can't they just count the votes? Seems simple to me.