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Deanie Mills Headshot

How Winning A Coin Toss Made Me An Obama Delegate

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I vote in the middle of a cotton field.

Yeah, I know! It sounds crazy, doesn't it? But it's true.

When you live in a remote rural area like the wilds of West Texas, you have voting centers put up in the weirdest places so farmers and ranchers can get to the polls without having to spend half a day going to town.

About six miles from where I live, sitting on the edge of a road that cuts through two massive cotton fields, is a little one-story white cinder-block building--maybe 400 square feet--that has the romantic and unmarked name: Northeast Community Center.

It's just a plain, concrete-floor space inside with a small kitchen area and a dumpster outside, where country folk sometimes hold events like birthday parties and family reunions.

Long ago there was a swing set and a slide out front. The school bus would stop there and pick up a small gaggle of country kids, including mine. The building was locked, of course, so if I was late, the bus driver would just sit and wait and let the kids play on the swings rather than leave two children out in the middle of nowhere.

On voting day, there are a couple of people manning a cafeteria table, and one voting machine stuck off in the corner. In all my years of voting there, I've never encountered another voter at the same time. Not that nobody votes--it's just that we dribble in one at a time.

Back in '04, I accidentally showed up in a John Kerry tee shirt. You're not supposed to politic at a polling place, but they said, Aww what the hell.

Up until this year, nobody out here seemed to realize that Texas had a caucus as well as a primary. As an Obama precinct captain, I was having a little trouble imagining a "precinct convention" (which is what they call the caucus) at the Northeast Community Center. Especially considering that practically the entire county is Republican.

So, I called up the county clerk. I wanted to know if I was supposed to caucus there at the little cinder-block building in the cotton field or go on in to the county courthouse or something.

She said..Caucus???

And I said yes, I was an Obama supporter, where would I go to caucus for him?

And she said...Well...I don't know.

It seems the Republican county chair had turned in stacks of caucus packets but nobody had heard a word from the Democratic chair and only one other person in the whole county had called about a Democratic caucus.

I said...Does this mean THERE WON'T BE A DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS IN MY COUNTY?

And she said, uh, well, um...you can CALL her but...um...she's real hard to get hold of. Doesn't seem to be answering her phone...

So I called my Obama field organizer, who immediately e-mailed me a packet of my very own with Texas Democratic Party caucus rules. He said he was going to call his boss who was going to check with legal. Then I went to the TDP website and printed up this big voluminous sheet of signature designations for the throngs of happy caucusers.

The packet was all full of instructions about the precinct convention--on what to do if, say, the crowd is so big you have to move into the parking lot...or, if people have questions for the legal representative...or, what to do if voters are being prevented from attending by evil opponents...and, how to MATHEMATICALLY figure your alloted number of delegates.

(You take your social security number, divide it by your birthday, multiply it by your weight...okay, I kid...)

So I called the Texas Democratic Party, and said...What if I'm the only one?

They said, Then you get to be a precinct delegate. If nobody else showed up at the county "convention," I'd get to be the delegate to the state convention.

But then, at the eleventh hour the night before the primary, I got a call from the ghost-chair of the county, who seemed a bit rattled by all this caucus business, and said everyone in the county who wanted to caucus would just meet at the rodeo coliseum "in one of the little rooms."

So, we did.

About fifty of us, county-wide, came out of our Democratic closets where we all hide, and met in a small room. The county chair would call out the precinct numbers and someone would raise their hand and they'd get the caucus packet.

In my precinct, there were two of us.

He was voting for Hillary.

That meant that we each got HALF of a vote.

You think I'm kidding, don'tcha?

This is West Texas. I was the only one who showed up wearing anything LIKE a candidate button. I was also carrying an Obama sign. People stared.

Like most West Texas crowds, it was quiet and mannerly. People murmured while they filled out their choices, turned in their packets, and left. No whooping or hollering. Contrary to the stereotype, country folks do not like whooping and hollering.

I went out to the car and called the Obama campaign to report how many delegates we got.

They said they'd never heard of half a delegate.

I said that, in Texas, it works.

They were flummoxed. Nobody knew what to do with half a delegate. Some conferring took place.

Then they came back and said we'd have to toss a coin--the other delegate and me. Whoever won the toss would get the delegate.

Hillary or Barack? Heads or Tails?

Oh Lord how I wish I were kidding.

So I galloped back into the building to find my other delegate, but he'd already left.

Wearily, I drove home, looked him up in the phone book, and called him.

Technically, he was our chairman because he'd done it before, so I said, "If you toss the coin, I'll trust you if you say it's Hillary."

He said, "Look, I just voted for Hillary because Bill Clinton is a distant cousin of mine. She's ahead in Texas right now, so you take the vote. You can have it for Obama. He's a fine candidate and I'd have no trouble supporting him in the general election."

I guess that's whatcha call smoke-filled back-room politicking. The country version.

Whatever it was, I thanked the man, called the Obama campaign, and gave them my one-delegate precinct-captain report.

It's crazy, I know, but it's really glorious, when you think about it. How, in this great democracy of ours, even country folks so remote from the county courthouse that they have to vote at a schoolbus stop in a cotton field...still vote, and still get their votes counted.