A Texas primary devised by Rube Goldberg
CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
March 3, 2008 – 4:01 p.m.
The Texas Primary Explained: Why Tuesday’s Dem Winner May Not Be Obvious
By Greg Giroux, CQ Staff
Some states choose presidential convention delegates through primary elections. Others use a system of caucuses. Texas is holding both on Tuesday.
That’s right — Texas is a primary state and a caucus state. And there’s a Texas-sized explanation for this unusual setup.
Texas voters don’t register with a political party, so any registered voter can participate in either party’s primary election. Anyone who votes in Tuesday’s Democratic primary — in which New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama are in a critical contest — can also participate in precinct conventions (caucuses) that will begin shortly after the polls close at 7 p.m. local time. (Nearly all of Texas is in the Central time zone; its western tip is in the Mountain time zone).
The purpose of these precinct conventions (caucuses), which will be held at the polling stations, is to select delegates for county conventions or state Senate district conventions on March 29 that in turn will elect delegates to the state Democratic convention on June 6 and 7. The state convention will determine the full delegate slate that will attend the Democratic national convention in Denver in late August. Texas Democrats are allotted 193 pledged delegates and 35 unpledged “superdelegates.”
But wait, it gets more complicated.
At the Democratic precinct conventions, attendees will sign in and reveal their presidential preferences (though they can be “uncommitted”) and elect delegates to the county conventions or state Senate district conventions. The more votes that a voting precinct gave in November 2006 to Chris Bell, the party’s losing candidate for governor, the more delegates it is entitled to send to the county or state Senate district convention. Of the 193 pledged Democratic delegates, 67 will be determined through this caucus process.
Obama has dominated Clinton in nearly all caucus contests that have been held to date, so he’s expected to win the lion’s share of the preference vote among Democrats who participate in the post-primary caucuses.
The other 126 pledged delegates will be determined by the primary vote and are distributed among the 31 state Senate districts. Each state Senate district is allocated between two and eight delegates, depending on the Democratic turnout in the past two general elections.
For example, Texas’ 14th senatorial district, which includes the state capital of Austin, is assigned eight delegates because there was a huge Democratic vote there in the past two elections. But the 31st senatorial district, which takes in the heavily Republican Panhandle, is assigned just two delegates because recent Democratic candidates didn’t get that many votes there.
Under this unconventional system, it’s possible that the winner of the overall statewide vote could capture fewer convention delegates than the runner-up. It may be hard to know exactly who won how many delegates Tuesday night when the results come in.
Texas Republicans also use this unusual primary-caucus system, though their process is less complicated. And the GOP race hasn’t received as much attention as the Democratic contest because Arizona Sen. John McCain has effectively sewn up the GOP nomination.
Any voter who cast a ballot in the Republican election can participate in his or her precinct convention on primary night. Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans won’t hold a presidential preference vote at the precinct conventions, which will elect delegates to the county or state Senate district conventions on March 29.
Congressional district caucuses on June 12-14 will elect 96 district-level delegates — three in each of Texas’ 32 congressional districts — to the Republican national convention in September. The state Republican convention also will be held June 12-14, and it will elect the 41 at-large delegates to the national convention. Three delegate spots are automatically awarded to the state party chairman and the state’s Republican national committeeman and Republican national committeewoman.
The winner of the statewide primary vote will take all of the at-large delegates if he wins a majority of the vote, and a majority-vote winner in a congressional district would also win its three delegates. In cases where a candidate does not win a majority of the vote statewide or in a congressional district, the delegates will be distributed proportionally among candidates who received at least 20 percent of the vote.http://www.cqpolitics.com/wmspage.cfm?parm1=5&docID=news-000002680003