Today, I attended the Clark County Democratic Convention at Bally's in Las Vegas. I'm not sure what was more surprising. The organization of the event was a complete disaster. Many of the attendees were unfamiliar with the process which exacerbated the problem. The two most important issues, the thousands of potential delegates that could not be seated and unsecured ballot boxes that disappeared to improper areas, speak to incompetence at best and outright election fraud at worst.
I haven't ever been a registered member of the Democratic Party until the day of our general caucus on January 19th, 2008. I was motivated by Barack Obama's message to caucus in the hopes he will be the next President of the United States. I was most inspired by the idea of a united America moving forward to face our toughest challenges. The politics of division that pits us against one another along racial, class and state lines had left me uninspired and Barack Obama gives me hope that we can move beyond that.
I was excited last night to pre-register for the convention today. One of my sons, 7 years old, went with me. I hoped to cement what I feel could be an historical change in American politics in his memory. The line was very short and we moved through quickly. I had time to leisurely converse with the volunteer for my precinct. She was 1 of approximately 20 volunteers there to register delegates with a separate room set up for alternates. An experienced volunteer, she said at the last convention they only needed 2 people to register the delegates. It appeared they were ready for the onslaught they would surely face.
The local Democratic party leaders have said that in their wildest dreams they hoped for 50,000 people to caucus on January 19th. Over 100,000 showed up. In light of that incredible turnout the convention planned for thousands of people (see related story from the Las Vegas Review Journal: http://www.lvrj.com/news/15901752.html) to attend today. At local precincts in January 7,504 delegates were elected to carry to the county the will of their neighbors and elect 2,463 state delegates to continue that journey to Reno in May and onto Denver and the Democratic National Convention. In preparation for the 7,504 delegates and an unknown number of alternates, the local Democratic party took out space at the Bally's convention center and set up between 2,500 and 3,000 chairs.
I arrived at Bally's a little after 10:00 and saw the line for registration went from the front of the convention facilities at the east end of the casino, all along the north wall fronting Flamingo. It reached the front of the casino and then snaked back through the blackjack and craps tables to almost where it began. My non-registered sister-in-law, who had signed up as an alternate, stood in that line for two hours. I walked into the main hall to check out what was going on and reported back to her they were still registering both delegates and alternates. Returning to the main hall, I was stopped by security and told that the Fire Marshall had closed the hall as it had reached capacity. That was before 11:00. Then and in the following hours, many people left discouraged that they would not get to register or having registered they would not be allowed back in. Around 11:20 they announced they had cleared some of the alternate delegates out of the room and delegates would be allowed in. At noon they announced the results of the straw poll (1,320 Clinton, 1,261 Obama, 24 undecided, 1 Gravel and 1 Edwards). Totaling the straw poll we can see that about 2607 people registered. Of course, some probably didn't drop their non-binding vote in that box.
Obviously, some serious miscalculations had occurred regarding attendance. Literally thousands of people were denied entrance to the convention they were elected to attend due to the facilities inability to accommodate them. The Fire Marshall, rightly, wouldn't allow them in. Let's not forget that Bally's was the MGM in the '70s and they are a little gun-shy about fire there.
Once we were finally underway I got to hear a lot of speeches whose essential message was, "It's us versus them." One candidate even said it very simply, "Who would you rather have in office? A Republican or a Democrat? Vote for me! I'm a Democrat!" That probably wasn't the strongest point he could have made on this day. It brought to mind a quote I can't place, but the gist is that good ideas have no party affiliation.
Shortly thereafter a motion was brought on the floor that the convention go into recess until a suitable facility could be found to accommodate all of the delegates. Unfortunately, this wasn't explained very well and most in attendance didn't realize what the consequences of a negative vote would be. This lack of appropriate explanation isn't an isolated episode. It is evident in both the general caucus and the registration for the county convention. I'm sure a large part of this is related to most voters' unfamiliarity with the caucus process here in Nevada and the enormous number of people that have chosen to participate for the first time. As a result, the motion was defeated.
The highlight of the day was listening to Al Franken who will probably be Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, shortly. The thing most absent from his speech was the mentality I had heard from the rest of the speakers, divisiveness. He made a great comment about the job of a satirist being to assess a situation, point out the hypocrisy, and reach the truth. If I lived in Minnesota I would vote for him. The operation of our government is a running joke at best. Maybe he can make some sense of it.
Around 3:00 p.m. a motion was put on the floor for the respective candidate's supporters to adjourn to separate rooms to caucus. There was a great uproar until people realized that it meant we were going to go talk amongst ourselves. To my ears it sounded like the motion was defeated but, nevertheless, it was announced that it passed. During the Obama caucus it was explained in detail what the earlier motion had really meant. It was, also, brought to light by a young lady that she had witnessed something disturbing. She claimed to have seen two of the ballot boxes that held our initial alignment disappear into the Ladies room and four more got out an exterior door. I'm sure those comments could prompt endless speculation about what happened to them while unobserved by the masses or a neutral party. I know that there was a call from the podium that any remaining ballot boxes that were floating around to be turned in. In a state where there have already been allegations of voter intimidation and disenfranchisement (see related RJ article: http://www.lvrj.com/news/14177657.html) I'm stunned that there would not be secured, stationary ballot boxes.
Ultimately, the responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the local Democratic party leadership. They failed to recognize how the record attendance at the general caucus would translate at the county level. They failed to familiarize the attendees with the process and provide adequate personnel to accommodate their registration. They failed to secure a facility that would accommodate, at a minimum, the number of delegates elected by the precincts. They failed to provide basic security for the procurement and counting of votes. Worst of all, they failed to truly understand the people they would represent and how valuable one day of work can be to them.
I walked away from the convention today with a couple of thoughts. The first thought being that the caucus process is not the best choice for voters whose work schedule is dictated by others. Second, I wondered how so much could go so wrong. It appears to me the majority of people in the Democratic party in Nevada that have been around for awhile are strong Clinton supporters. This could explain how they seemed to have no real conception of how many people would show up. If you were a conspiracy nut, which I am not (I swear on my stack of Oliver Stone's JFK DVDs ), it might explain why ballot boxes were said to go missing or disappear for awhile. It could explain why a facility that was obviously inadequate was selected to hold an enormous turnout that is a result of first time voters who support an opposing candidate and are unfamiliar with the selection process. Regardless of the intent, the effect is that sometime in the next couple of weeks 7,504 of us will, hopefully, go through this process, again.