by: Wes Ishmael

“It ain't the candidates you have to worry about, boys, it's the folks voting for them,” Peetie Womack said, while members of the Rio Rojo Cattlemen's Association (RRCA) were chatting ahead of the previous month's popular basketball pool and calcutta. It was the organization's main fundraiser each year.

Delmar Jacobs won it again, though he knows nothing about basketball and makes his bracket selections by flipping a coin—which seems a Herculean task in his unsteady hands.

During the political discourse, and given the popularity of the calcutta, Cousin Charlie reckoned the RRCA might consider a fall event: “We could do it based on the presidential election, not the electoral votes but the popular vote by party.”

Greed being what it is, the boys got to thinking maybe they could go to the well yet a third time, starting with a pre-delegate convention contest.

“There's even a scientific basis for it,” said Izzy Franklin between bites of a Twinkie.

“Do tell, Lightning Rod.” Lonnie Johnson was gnawing on his Mail Pouch and glaring.

“Some call it collective wisdom,” Izzy said. “I believe it was Aristotle who first called it the wisdom of the crowd.”

Izzy was like that. Nothing in forever, and then pure gold out of the blue.

“I know what you're talking about,” Charlie said. “It's how a crowd comes up with an answer closer to right than the individuals in the crowd.”

Izzy was concentrating hard; he'd even set aside his processed pastry. “Yup. At least with hard, close-call or iffy decisions.”

“Like taking the average of all the weights guessed on the champion heifer,” Charlie said.

“Exactly,” Izzy said. “But, you can find more recent research that says individuals are more accurate than the crowd at deciding between options when one has lots more advantage.”

“So?” growled Lonnie.

“So, it will be plumb interesting and maybe even informative to see who votes for who and in what order.”

Waddling Toward Victory

Turtles. That seemed the most objective experiment.

The boy's constructed a simple frame—five feet wide by seven feet long—using 1” X 4” boards.

“Don't we need lanes for them?” Izzy asked.

Lonnie picked his hammer off the ground and spat a stream of tobacco juice, drowning a dandelion in the dirt alley next to the old Thayer place, where the race was held. “You seen any lanes in real life?”

The candidates were six recently caught box turtles of similar size. The shells of two were marked with blue chalk for the Democrats, three red for the Republicans. The first letter of each candidates name was chalked in white: T for Ted Cruz; D for Donald Trump; J for John Kasich; H for Hillary Clinton; B for Bernie Sanders. The sixth was au natural; what you saw was what you got.

The boys used nails and lengths of twine to mark the start and finish. Behind the starting line, each contestant was allocated 10 pellets of feed and a small bowl of water. In front of the finish line were lots of feed, water, shade and a special victory wreath of mesquite leaves.

“Think of it as campaign funds or tax dollars,” Peetie told the crowd. When he dropped his red handkerchief, the boys placed each candidate inside the track, behind the starting line. The race was on.

On closer inspection, being able to see them all together in a more confined space, “D” was a touch bigger than the competitors, but acted a whole lot bigger. When any of the others got close to him, he'd spit shake his head and back them into one of the other contestants.

“You can't do that,” yelled everyone in the crowd who were betting on another candidate.

“If they can't stick up for themselves, what good are they,” hollered back everyone else.

“H” made a fast start but then stopped. She raised her head as far and high as possible to look left and right. She'd make a quarter-circle clockwise, stretch and look again. It could have been the turtles in dark glasses watching her every move. Then, she'd inch ahead and dig in the dirt with her snout, apparently trying to hide something or dig it up.

“Get the lead out,” somebody hollered.

“She is,” came a shouted reply, followed by laughter.

“J” seemed the happiest of the lot. Going forward appeared to be of secondary importance. He waddled to the aid of any of the other candidates that seemed to be in trouble, offering encouragement, nudging them onward.

“That's why I picked him,” said Aunt Pinkie, sticking an elbow into the side of Nelda Isselfrick. “At least he's nice.”

Nelda elbowed back. “What would you know about nice?”

“B” paid little attention to direction or the race itself. He was busy taking the pellets of feed from all of the other turtles. He set each one over the side of the track for others presumably in need. At least he did until there were no more pellets left to take. Then he stopped where he was, sucked his head into his shell and never moved again for the remainder of the race.

“Well, at least you're all on equal footing now,” came a shout.

“Yep, ain't nobody got anything.”

Let the records show no one had selected him.

“T” appeared to be the headiest of the competitors. He watched contentedly as “D” pushed the others around. He'd nod his head at “H” looking over her shoulder and digging. He'd smile a turtle grin as “J” looked for someone to encourage and “B” pilfered. Then, when he spied an opening, he'd simply stick his head into the space and refuse to give an inch.

“That's what I call strategy,” said one.

“That's what I call gutless,” said another.

Dreams of a Dark Horse

Then there was the outsider, the one with no markings. This one had an air of confidence wrought by wisdom and experience. It certainly had enough extra wrinkles to be older than the rest.

When “D” bullied another, this outsider would roar over and somehow raise its front legs up enough to whack him upside the head. She did the same thing when she caught “B” trying to make off with someone else's food.

“That's a way. He had it coming.” Even “D's” supporters applauded the discipline.

This outsider ignored “H” completely. She consoled and rubbed noses with “J”, congratulating him on his humility.

When she saw “T” sneaking into a position of advantage, this outsider waltzed over and stared him down until he decided to back up a step.

“Yeah, you little pipsqueak, mind your manners.” Even “T's” supporters applauded.

The outsider turtle did all of this while keeping the action confined, congested and behind. When this one finally decided to, she turned and headed unopposed to the finish line.

The crowd roared its approval, not so much cheering the outsider on as thanking the contestant for the hope of separation and for a race well run.

“Who's the ringer?” wondered the crowd.

Hooter picked up the winner with gentle hands. “This is no ringer. This is a champ and a wish. I call her Babs, as in Bush and Jordan. We need folks like them and we need them now.”

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