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Texas Voters Upset by Long, Confusing Caucus System


In Texas, election officials continue to count votes cast in the caucuses that followed the primary in Tuesday's complicated two-part contest. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, many upset voters are calling for a change in the system.

It was the biggest turnout for caucuses in 20 years in Texas, with some 700,000 people participating statewide. That was five times the number officials had planned for. As a result, people wanting to participate in some precincts had to crowd into packed auditoriums or social halls where there was standing room only. In some places police officers became alarmed by people blocking fire exits.

"I am going to say it one more time, clear this stairway now! Move!"

The caucuses in Texas were held in the evening after the state's Democratic voters had already taken part in a traditional primary election, where they went to voting booths and made the choice for Senator Hillary Clinton or Senator Barack Obama. But under the unique Texas system, voters could then go and take part in political gatherings, or caucuses. About one third of the state Democratic delegates are to be awarded based on the results of those caucuses.

But the process was so confused that as it went on into the early morning hours of Wednesday, many people simply gave up and went home, effectively prevented from participating. Rita Broussard was one of the disgruntled voters here in Houston.

"This is an injustice to all of us. We have a right to vote and our vote should have counted a long time ago," she said.

Party officials say they had to set their plans for the caucus way back in December when no one was expecting Texas to even play much of a role in the election. Many political analysts thought the nomination process would be over after the first few primaries and caucuses in states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

But the race is in a full swing on the Democratic side after Hillary Clinton's strong showing here in Texas as well as in Ohio and Rhode Island. Barack Obama still holds the lead in the all-important delegate count and, in spite of the fact that Clinton won the popular vote in Texas, he may end up taking away more delegates from the lone star state. Many Texas Democrats are outraged that the system is so convoluted and confusing.

Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Gerry Bimberg, who had to supervise a chaotic caucus Tuesday agrees with the critics.

"It is a very difficult task," he said. "If the state party decides to get rid of the delegate selection through caucuses, you will not find an objector in me."

There is an old Texas saying about having to dance with the girl you brought to the party. For now, Democrats are stuck with the system they have and will have to follow it through to determine how many of the 67 delegates assigned from the caucuses each candidate won.

The system, often referred to as the Texas Two Step, is not just confusing because of the two stage voting process. It is also confusing because delegates elected in the Tuesday caucuses are then supposed to go to district conventions on March 26. If any of them fail to show up, that could affect the outcome of those proceedings, where delegates are selected for the state convention in June in the Texas state capital of Austin. That is where the final designation of delegates from the long, drawn-out process will take place.

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