How the Texas Caucus Works

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The 42 at-large delegates are selected through a three-month, three-tier caucus convention system that starts at the precinct level on primary night and ends at the state convention in June. Here is how the mind-bogglingly complex Texas caucus system works. Clip this out, take it with you to the polls, or, better yet, put it on your refrigerator as a monument to the wisdom of the Texas Democratic Party.

1. At 7:15 p.m. or thereabouts on March 4, after the polls close, those who voted in the Democratic primary and want to participate in a caucus will gather at a designated location, usually their precinct polling places.

2. The first order of business is for participants to sign in with their name, address, and voter ID number, and identify their presidential preferences or “uncommitted” status.

3. The chair announces the number of people committed to each candidate, as well as those “uncommitted.” (Each precinct receives one delegate for every 15 votes for Chris Bell in 2006.) Now, someone with a math degree calculates the number of precinct delegates allocated to each candidate. For example, if the precinct is entitled to 10 delegates and 60 people sign in for Hillary Clinton and 40 for Barack Obama, that precinct will send six Clinton delegates and four Obama delegates to the senatorial district convention. Note: A candidate must meet a certain threshold (calculated using the Party’s “E-Z Math Formula to Determine Threshold”) of supporters to have a “viable” caucus.

4. Individuals committed to a particular candidate break into separate caucuses to vote on who gets to attend the senatorial district convention as delegates or alternates. Individuals may nominate themselves or others.

5. This concludes the presidential portion of the precinct convention. Participants may now vote on resolutions or committee reports, or hit the nearest bar.

6. Twenty-five days later, on March 29, delegates from the precincts travel to senatorial district and county conventions held around the state. In all, there are 245 county conventions and 30 senatorial district conventions, the latter mostly in urban areas.

7. Here delegates and alternates are elected to go to the state convention. Like the precinct conventions, delegates at this second tier are allocated to the candidates based on the presidential preferences expressed on a sign-in sheet. For every 180 votes for Chris Bell in 2006, each county or district receives one delegate. More than 7,000 delegates will advance to the state convention.

8. On June 6, the state convention-the third tier of the caucus process-commences in Austin. Delegates from the counties and senatorial districts participate in a “written poll” to register their presidential preferences. As in the precinct and county/senatorial district conventions, candidates receive a proportional allocation of the vote based on the preferences expressed in the written poll. A candidate must achieve 15 percent of the delegate votes to be eligible to send delegates to the national convention.

9. The next day, on June 7, the 42 at-large delegates and six alternates are selected by a nominations committee from a pool of nominees to go to the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August.

10. To win a slot at the national convention as one of the 42 Texas at-large delegates, individuals must file statements of candidacy by May 21. Selection takes place at the convention, under the rules of an affirmative action plan that keeps a certain number of slots open for minority groups, including the disabled; African-Americans; Hispanics; Asian-Americans; Native Americans; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons; and youth.

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is associate editor of the Observer. Forrest specializes in environmental reporting and runs the “Forrest for the Trees” blog. Forrest has appeared on Democracy Now!, The Rachel Maddow Show and numerous NPR stations. His work has been mentioned by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time magazine and many other state and national publications. Other than filing voluminous open records requests, Forrest enjoys fishing, kayaking, gardening and beer-league softball. He holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.