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Texas Dispatch: Anticipating Caucus Troubles

Freelance journalist Laurence Lowe is covering the Texas primary from Austin this week. Here, he reports on a looming logistical nightmare.

Everyone in Texas expected the race to be over on Super Tuesday. Not in the last 36 years has a primary here actually mattered--and there’s a lot of confusion about how to handle the little things, like enabling all the people who want to caucus to, well, caucus. Turnout is anticipated to shatter state records, and more than a few precinct convention sites--selected long before anyone thought Texas would impact the race--are laughably ill-equipped to handle it. Campaign officials for both Barack and Hillary predict a very messy night.

Yesterday, on the patio of the Blue Dahlia Bistro in East Austin, Ian Davis, the grassroots director of Texans for Obama and the recent subject of a front-page article and pencil sketch in The Wall Street Journal, described for me how he thinks tomorrow’s going to look:

Now the reason it's so fucked up--well, like, for example, there are two precinct out in the UT [University of Texas] West Campus area that has something like 10,000 registered voters, and the place they picked for their caucus is the Senior Activity Center near campus, which has 35 parking spots. So there could be 500 people who show up, but the building is just not big enough. It's gonna be such a clusterfuck. The party and the county election officials are fixing to implode. There's just so much overwhelming demand and interest, for both Obama and Hillary. It's like, you don't have enough voting booths and there's gonna be two-hour-long lines on caucus night and we don't have big enough meeting rooms, all that kind of shit. Listen, I know that the county and the party is working as hard as they can to address this challenge, but it's something we haven't seen before in Texas. It would overwhelm anyone.


It gets better: Most of the rooms at the Senior Activity Center, on the corner of 29th Street and N. Lamar--which will serve student-heavy precincts 266 and 277 simultaneously--were, as of noon today, still booked for bridge games and ballroom-dancing classes

The business of accommodating such a teeming mass of registered Democrats--a large number of whom will be attending their first ever precinct convention--should be even knottier outside of Austin, because voters in the capital are generally more politically active and knowledgeable about the process.

At precinct 294, for example, in the Sunnyside section of Southeast Houston, caucus-goers are expected to spill out into the parking lot of Andrew Carnegie Vanguard High School. Last Friday--the last day for early voting--over 1100 people showed up at the nearby Palm Center (a community center that served as the early voting site for 294), and the average wait that day was an hour and 45 minutes. Tempers flared when people noticed that many of the electronic voting machines weren't even working because the system, which couldn't accommodate such a high turnout, had crashed. Locals seem to think that tomorrow will go much worse.

The Clinton campaign has already threatened to call in the lawyers to challenge Texas’s strange caucus rules. The question is: Will they find a place to park?