Two days after the big meltdown here in SD10, and already those of us who served on credentials and had a hand in running the convention are trading emails speculating on how we can prevent things from spiraling so far out of control again. After all, we want our conventions to be meaningful and well-attended, from the state convention all the way down to the precincts. We have to fix some things to make that truly possible, though.
Go below the fold to find out what we've thought of so far.
- Organizing conventions in urban counties by Senate district no longer works. We've had 31 Senate districts in Texas for 132 years. Over that time, by my reckoning, we've added a few residents. We'll probably keep adding more pretty much indefinitely. As that happens, either our district conventions will continue to grow, or the barrier to participation will rise. Neither is desirable.
- House districts would put us in far more manageable territory. Tarrant County had approximately 6600 delegates to convene this year. With three Senate districts, that left an average of roughly 2200. (District 10 had significantly more than that. 12 had slightly fewer, and 9 significantly fewer.) Using ten House districts would have put the average at 660 delegates -- enough to fit into just about any high school auditorium, easy to sign in and quick to get through business. Instead of 4 am adjournments, probably all would have finished by 6 pm with ease.
- Quit indicating delegate/alternate status on the precinct convention sign-in sheets. This was the real killer for us this year with the flood of new attendees -- people putting 'D' by their own names because they wanted to be delegates, or wanted to indicate they were Democrats, or whatever. With credentials committees and the state party instructed to use the sign-in sheets as the ultimate authority on determining convention results, in many cases we ended up facing absurd situations where over 100 delegate names would be "elected" from precincts allocated maybe 20 seats. This ends up being extremely simple: Don't put your most sensitive legal documents directly into the hands of a public unlikely to know how to fill them out. Send official delegate roster sheets to each precinct, to be filled out by the precinct convention chair and signed by representatives of each caucus. Make those the basis of the official roll at the county/district level. End of confusion, no fuss, no muss.
- Quit having precinct conventions on election night. This seems like a simple idea, but primary elections are typically run by precinct chairs, who typically also like to run their precinct conventions. Running them ragged for twelve hours straight and then expecting them to operate a precinct convention 15 minutes later is insane. I'm talking truly batshit crazy here. Move the precinct conventions to Saturday or something.
- No more combined precincts at precinct conventions. This should be easy enough to understand.
- Move the county/district conventions later in the calendar. The state party gets over two months to learn who's coming to their convention and plan accordingly. County parties get three weeks, and that's being generous, really -- SD10 didn't get a full list of delegates until three days prior to its convention, and that list ended up being worthless. Changing the method of recording delegate election would help with this, but still, three weeks is a very short turnaround. Tarrant County had to scramble to find sites big enough to house its district conventions, and didn't succeed until just over a week before they were held. More lead time means better planning means better information going to delegates means better and happier turnout. Everybody wins.
Here in Fort Worth, we've been talking to Rep. Lon Burnam of HD90 about solving some of this with legislation. Lon is truly one of the good guys, and I'm hopeful he'll be able to fashion together a coalition in the lege to pass a bill fixing things. His job will be far easier, though, if Democrats from all over Texas are pressed to join Lon in getting a bill through. That happens if readers like you join me in staying driven about fixing our convention problem such that we can host anybody who wants to join our emerging majority and never have to apologize for the way we accounted for our delegates. If we want a big party, we need to be diligent about acting like a big party.