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NEW STORE NORTH SOUTH RESEARCH E. RIVERSIDE STASSNEY 832-8544 443-2292 502-9323 441-5555 E_AST MILITARY CENTRAL WEST 654-8536 333-3043 822-7767 521-5213 707-9069 NEW STORE I!! SAN MARCOS 2-4596 Help save an endangered species: The independent women’s bookstore _ GROWNUP GIFTS FOR KIDS OF ALL AGES Serving the Austin community since 1975 SAVE AND SUSTAIN BOOK-WOMAN For details go to artisan-roasted in Marfa, Texas 10 0 % ORGANIC & FAIR TRADE w 4111’ g b endc offe e .c om wholesale inquiries welcome Caucuses tend to reward campaigns that can mobilize disciplined and highly motivated voters. Obama, in particular, has proven adept at harnessing grassroots energy to seize the levers of caucus control in state after state, winning 10 of 11 caucuses so far. For her part, Clinton may rely on union member supporters to vote for her at the caucus level. Precinct caucuses in normal election years are relatively uneventful affairs, attended by few but the party faithful. This year, though, the system will be tested by an influx of new voters and candidates eager to lock up delegates at the precinct conventions. According to Ian Davis, coordinator of Texans for Obama, “This will be the largest voter turnout ever in the state of Texas. The county election [officials] aren’t prepared for this; the Texas Democratic Party isn’t ready for this. Nobody is ready for this:’ Consequently, the potential for caucus confusion or worse is significant. For starters, the March 4 precinct conventions can’t begin until the last regular precinct ballot is cast. With record turnout expected, long lines could delay the start of caucuses in some precincts by hours. In just one Harris County precinct, which presents an unusually long ballot this year, Harris County Democratic Party volunteer Leif Hatlen expects 2,000 primary voters. But heavy turnout won’t be the only hurdle to an efficient caucus. There’s also enormous complexity “It’s a Byzantine process:’ said Glen Maxey, a former state representative from Austin and caucus expert. Ed Martin, an old Democratic hand, describes a recent DNC conference call he was on. “The biggest concern they’re getting from the campaigns is the potential for mischief:’ Martin said. Democrats are vague on the specifics of what irregularities might arise, but one potential problem area is the manner in which delegates are awarded to candidates in the precinct conventions. When voters arrive at the caucus they sign in with their name, address, voter ID number and presidential preference. They will then be checked against voter rolls to make sure they voted in the Democratic primary for that precinct. Then delegates are divvied up based on each candidate’s share of sign-in-sheet supporters. Even insiders are confused about the system’s nuances and potential loopholes. “You can literally sign people in who aren’t there,” Davis told the Observer. “… It’s just ripe for abuse’ Texas Democratic Party communications director Hector Nieto insists that only those who are present can be counted, but that message clearly hasn’t reached everyone. Nieto said his office is training county chairs in the process, coordinating with the campaigns, and planning to deploy field staff statewide to monitor the caucuses. “We’re confident that we’ll have a smooth caucus process:’ Nieto said. But with more than 8,000 precincts in the state, it will be impossible to place independent monitors everywhere. Davis, of Texans for Obama, is encouraging Obama supporters to take video cameras to the polls. “I want to shine a big flashlight on this [process] so nothing under the table happens,” he said. Party insider Martin is less worried, arguing that the highly competitive nature of the contest itself could help prevent widespread irregularities. “The campaigns, ultimately, are the police,” he said. Regardless of the Texas primary’s absurdly involved and unwieldy infrastructure, Texas Democrats expect to profit from the unprecedented focus on the state. The expected surge in turnout at the polls will deliver new donors, activists, and fresh energy as the party tries to rebuild, Martin said. In fact, Martin thinks the process, despite its inherent difficulties, “has the potential to be beneficial to Democrats more than ever before.” It also has the potential, of course, to put Hillary Clinton right back in the hunt, or push Barack Obama imposingly close to over the top. And that, finally, despite the arcana and the moving-target math, is why Texas matters come March. $5 shipping on all orders p, www.bigbendcoffee_com FEBRUARY 22, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9