Tuesday, August 12, 2008

All Votes Aren’t Equal: Texas Credentials Report Cites Evidence of Procedural Irregularities

This is part of a multi-part series. See Daily Kos and Texas Campaign 2008 for the first part of the series.Crossposted on DAILY KOS
By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - August 12, 2008
I just received a copy of the 2008 Texas Democratic Convention Credentials Committee's report from TDP Staffer Jim Boyton. The summary is below:

The Committee heard heart-felt, dispiriting testimony from witnesses representing hundreds of challengers about improprieties at many county/senatorial district conventions. Even though the Committee could not always ascertain the factual predicate necessary to divine a remedy that would deny the fruits of the wrongdoing to the violators without harming the effort of welcoming participation by tens of thousands of new Democrats and beginning the healing process, the Committee implores the Party to take stringent steps to prevent recurrence of the following types of infractions:
• Abandoning the convention leadership’s responsibility to ensure credentials go only to those properly elected at the precinct conventions below as properly reflected on the precinct convention minutes returned in a timely manner;

• Allowing participation by alternates or visitors in the voting in precinct caucuses or the voting on the floor of the convention;

• Not recognizing delegates on the floor to challenge the approval of the nominating committee’s nominees for4 delegate-at-large without allowing individual challenges;

• Having one person serving in multiple positions, e.g. Chair of the Tabulations Committee, Rules Committee and Credentials Committee simultaneously as well as adopting and enforcing special rules;

• Claiming to suspend the rules or adopting special rules under the rubric of Robert’s Rules of Order in order to operate in direct violation of the Rules of the Texas Democratic Party;

• Holding joint conventions of different senatorial districts within a county, including joint Nominations or other committees;

• Not appointing members of the Credentials or other committees at the time and in the manner prescribed in the rules, including not in open meetings or not properly balanced;

• Ordering precinct conventions to be ignored and to be reheld without proper factual basis found by the appropriate authorities and without opportunity for sufficient notice to all potential precinct voters;

• Not having the precinct convention minutes and all exhibits made available in a timely manner to anyone wanting to use those materials for supporting any Democratic candidates;

• Not addressing the time frame for the credential verification and challenge processes so that those matters can be resolved sufficiently in advance of the opening of the conventions to avoid long delays in the convention before conducting their other business.

The Preamble of the 2008 Credentials Committee Report to the SDEC and Texas Democratic State Convention addresses the expectations of the 2.8 million Texas primary voters:

On March 4, 2008, some 2.8 million Texans exuberantly turned out to select the leaders that they wanted to carry forward the Democratic banner in the fall election. These people cast their votes to restore the levers of government in our county and state to those dedicated to implementing policies and democratic values in the best interest of all Americans.

An unprecedented million or so of those voters also participated in their precinct conventions in hopes of helping the presidential candidate of their choice obtain the Democratic nomination to lead that campaign in the fall. Those Democrats rightfully expected the convention process at both the precinct and the county/senatorial district convention levels to be conducted fairly and openly in accordance with the rules and laws applicable to the most important of all rights – the right to vote.

Acknowleding that many of the conventions were conducted fairly, they stated:

For the most part, the conventions were able to conduct their important business with due respect for the rules and the rights for all involved. The conventions did so in spite of the unprecedented numbers of participants, the vast majority of whom had never participated in their conventions beforehand, and cumbersome or arcane rules and procedures. The amazing success of the conventions is due to the dedication, patience and good faith of the scores of thousands involved.

They attributed some of the problems to:

However, constraints of time or facilities, misunderstanding of the rules, miscommunication between the people involved, or occasionally excess zeal in trying to advance the cause of a particular presidential candidate, caused improprieties or mistakes to be made in the process.

The Preamble explains the importance of the Challenge Process:

The Democratic Party devised the rules after decades of experience where those in positions of power often overrode the rights of others, sometimes even of the majority. The rules are designed to give everyone a fair opportunity to participate and any transgression of those rights, regardless of how well intentioned or innocent the cause of the transgression, is a serious matter. For that reason the Party has established the challenge process over which this Committee has been deliberating these past three weeks.

The committee acknowledged that they did not remedy all the challenges they affirmed and they did not enforce the rules to the fullest extent:
This report contains the recommendations of the committee to the SDEC as how to resolve all of the challenges that came before the Committee. The Committee recognizes that these recommendations do not always enforce the letter of the rules to the fullest. This is done consciously and advisedly.

Apportioning presidential delegates at the convention creates disunity:
In the heat of the convention process, where those supporting competing candidates vie for delegates, passions run high and feelings are often injured.

This year the high turn-out of convention attendees further exacerbated the divisions among Texas Democrats:
The unique obstacles created by trying to accommodate such unprecedented participation in inadequate facilities in such a short time for planning often exacerbated the sense of injury.

The Challenge Process is designed to facilitate healing among Democratic Convention participants:
The Committee strongly believes that it is crucial to our common pursuit of success in the fall elections to use the resolution of these challenges to commence the healing of those bruised feelings and the coming-back together of the factions. For that reason, the Committee suggested that the local participants involved always try to reach a mutual accommodation amongst themselves before forcing the Committee to rule on certain challenges. The Committee appreciates and commends those challengers and respondents in many senate districts that did so. The Committee has recommended approval of those agreements.

The Committee stated that they decided in some instances not to require full compliance with the rules, attempting "to balance" opposing sides and hopefully create ways for participants to work together in the future:
In other instances, the Committee has recommended resolution of challenges that balance the competing interests of not discouraging participation by those new to the process and insisting on full compliance with rules. In these instances, the Committee chose not apply the harshest relief available for these violations. These decisions are not made lightly and do not reflect in any regard a derogation of the good faith and hard effort of those bringing those challenges, often in the face of powerful interests or community pressures not to do so. The balanced resolutions are recommended not only because the available data is sometimes insufficient to tie a particular remedy to the appropriate person or the remedy may harm the potential participation in the state convention of those not involved in the violation of the rules; but also because the Committee feels these resolutions are appropriate to encourage those involved to look beyond their arguments for or against the particular challenge to see how they can begin working in harmony again for our common purpose in the fall.

The Committee urges the Party to Reform and Modernize the Infrastructure of the Convention Process:
That said, the Committee .. encourages the Party as a whole to reform and modernize the infrastructure for the convention process at all levels. The specifics of those reforms are beyond the purview of this Committee but we have heard the testimony of so many people that believe the processes to be inadequate that we feel compelled to express that on their behalf.

The report contains summaries of challenges they reviewed. They did not accept for review all the challenges presented to them.

The Committee makes specific comment on certain egregious violations

In the Credentials Committee Report Summary of Challenges they frequently affirm the challenge and state that they have no appropriate remedy.

This report is released long after the deadline for filing National Challenges. Ironically, the report acknowledges the failure of precinct, county and senatorial district officials to provide records and minutes for review and utilization by those wishing to file challenges, yet the Credentials Committee of the 2008 Democratic State Convention missed the deadline themselves. The report was not "written" when presented to the Convention. Mr. Boyton had to compile the report from sources which included video tape and other convention/committee records. I am aware of several people who have been requesting this report repeatedly since the close of the 2008 Convention. I am thankful that it is now available. It is a tool for use in refining the process to ensure that future conventions are not as divisive and detrimental to the purposes most Democrats hold in common.


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