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Precinct conventions cause confusion in Killeen caucus

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Posted: Wednesday, March 5, 2008 12:00 pm | Updated: 5:09 pm, Wed Aug 15, 2012.

By Kevin M. Smith

Killeen Daily Herald

An angry, but dwindling, crowd stood outside Killeen Fire Station No. 5 on Jasper Road on election night.

They wanted to caucus. But they couldn't.

"We want to get in this place," Phyllis Charles said at 8 p.m.

The caucus was scheduled to start at 7:15 p.m. for Precinct No. 408 at Fire Station No. 5, 905 W. Jasper Road in Killeen.

"If I have to sleep out here at this fire station to vote, I will," Charles said. "We're not leaving."

Minutes later, an announcement was made that the caucus would begin.

"We are going to have a caucus out here," David Wilson, 52, said.

Wilson, who went to the caucus to participate, made an announcement on behalf of a volunteer with the Sen. Barack Obama campaign. The volunteer, who said she could not talk to news media, was telling people not to leave and they would hold the caucus in the fire station's driveway.

Several minutes later, a polling location volunteer came outside to make an announcement.

"Just be a little more patient," Evette Little, polling location volunteer, told the crowd.

Little said she expected it to take 30 minutes or more before the polling location workers would finish counting the ballots and let people in. People were not let in until about 9 p.m.

Jana Henderson, county election clerk, said at 8:55 p.m. that she received results from Precinct No. 408 about a half hour earlier. She said poll workers do not need to count the ballots at the polling location.

"They have been counted all day," Henderson said, noting the electronic counter that ballots were fed into as each voter finished.

Not much encouraged people to stay and wait.

"This is the process that counts the most," Little said.

At 8:30 p.m., people continued to stand outside, some signing up for their preferred delegate. Some had already left.

"He (Obama) is losing delegate votes because people are leaving," said Davis Roche, who went to the caucus to support Obama.

At 7:20 p.m., a headcount indicated more than 150 people standing in a weaving line at the fire station for the caucus. At 8:30 p.m., there were about 100.

Several people in the crowd said they called the police. A Killeen police officer arrived on scene, walked into the fire station, talked to poll workers for a few minutes, then left.

"There was so much confusion," Deborah Kingwood said.

She said, via telephone at 9:30 p.m., that the caucus hadn't started yet but people were let into the fire station.

"It seems to be working itself out," Kingwood said.

Precinct No. 408 was not the only one with problems.

"It's a madhouse," said Rosa Hereford, Precinct No. 404 chair.

A shortage of Precinct No. 404 ballots caused a delay at Fire Station No. 7, 3701 Watercrest Road in Killeen, according to caucus participants.

Jerry Wainwright, 26, said he was in line at Fire Station No. 7 since 7:15 p.m. The doors did not open for the caucus until about 8:30 p.m.

"The line was wrapped around the street," Wainwright said.

Most of the people caucusing were in the building by 9 p.m., but not everyone participated.

"A lot of people had left," Wainwright said.

Hereford estimated she had about 150 people in line before the caucus started.

Lemul Williams, 53, showed up for the caucus at Precinct No. 404 about 8 p.m.

"I think it is pretty important," said Williams, who was attending his first caucus. "There is a chance for history to be made tonight. I want to be part of it."

Arthur Resa, Bell County Democratic Party chair, also called the caucus historic.

"We trained and trained people to run the caucus," Resa said. "I think the numbers that showed up overwhelmed us. We had some glitches."

He said some caucus locations simply did not have enough room. Others needed more sign-up sheets. Resa said he was not aware of the problems in Killeen. A call to the Texas Democratic Party at 10:15 p.m. gave an automated message stating because of high call volume, the wait time was more than 20 minutes and to call back later.

The place on the party's Web site – txdemocrats.org – that promised caucus results did not link to results at that time either.

Resa said at 10:20 p.m. that he had not heard any caucus results yet.

"They're still caucusing," Resa said.

Not all caucuses had problems.

"It went great," said Horace Grace, Precinct No. 208 chair.

"They were wrapped all around the building," Grace said.

His caucus had 607 people at Cedar Valley Elementary School, 4801 Chanz Drive in Killeen. Grace said they were in the building by 7:35 p.m.

"They wouldn't leave," Grace said.

He did not want to release the official results until he turned them in to the party, but said it favored Obama. Precinct No. 408 concluded at 11:15 p.m. with votes leaning toward Obama according to Kingwood.

Contact Kevin M. Smith at ksmith@kdhnews.com or call (254) 501-7550

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