It wouldn’t be a presidential election if Florida didn’t figure out a way to screw it up. This time, hanging and pregnant chads and poorly constructed ballots aren’t to blame, and neither is a partisan U.S. Supreme Court. In 2008, the fault belongs squarely to Florida Democrats.
In August 2006, the Democratic National Committee established its primary calendar for 2008. Under those rules, only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina could hold their contests before Feb. 5. Any state that jumped the gun would have half of its delegates and superdelegates stripped at the convention, and any candidate who campaigned in those states would lose all the delegates he or she won there.
In May 2007, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed a law that moved up Florida’s primary date. It’s true that he’s a Republican, and that the state Legislature that crafted the law is GOP-controlled. But the bill had Democratic support; it passed the state House unanimously, and had only two nay votes in the Senate. The bill also required that future elections include a verifiable paper trial, which gave Democrats a reason to vote for it.
In August 2007, the national party voted nearly unanimously – Allan Katz, a Barack Obama supporter on the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee, was the lone holdout – to strip all of Florida’s delegates if it went ahead with the Jan. 29 primary. The national party gave the state party 30 days to create a new plan. In late September, the state party defied the DNC’s deadline. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson sued the DNC in federal court, but a judge dismissed his complaint.
The DNC tried to negotiate. According to an e-mail circulated to prominent Democrats in September and forwarded to Orlando Weekly by a lawyer who does work for the party, the national party offered the state party money to pay for an alternate delegate selection program – most likely a caucus or a state convention that would have occurred sometime after Feb. 5. The state party, however, insisted on holding its primary Jan. 29, and all but dared the DNC not to count it. According to media reports, state party leaders wanted to keep the Jan. 29 primary “meaningful” to bring Democrats to the polls to vote down the proposed amendment to lower property taxes. That gambit failed.
Even though state Democratic Party officials like to point fingers at the DNC and its chairman, Howard Dean, for the state’s predicament, the reality is that state leaders knew the consequences of their actions and plunged ahead anyway.
If the primary weren’t so close, Florida Democrats’ decision to move their election up wouldn’t have mattered. But as the campaign entered the home stretch, Obama was up 170 pledged delegates and led Hillary Clinton by more than 813,000 popular votes. Clinton needed Florida and Michigan – both states she won, though Obama didn’t campaign in Florida and took his name off the ballot in Michigan in accordance with DNC rules – to stay competitive and convince the party’s nearly 800 superdelegates to swing the primary to her at the August convention. She wants the delegates from both states seated. The Obama campaign says that would amount to changing the rules mid-game.
On March 12, Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Karen Thurman and Sen. Nelson – a Clinton supporter – submitted a revoting plan to the national party. By March 13, Florida’s nine congressional Democrats had already shot it down, and Thurman acknowledged that neither presidential campaign was likely to sign off.
The problems are logistical. The state party would have to raise between $10 million to $12 million to hold the election. Then it would have to figure out a way to access the state’s election database to compare ballot signatures, something it can’t do under state law. More importantly, the state has never held such an election, and would have to put the whole apparatus in place in a couple of months.
As Katz told the Orlando Sentinel, “This is an idea whose time never came. You’re going to have the Florida Democratic Party doing the largest mail-in election in the history of the United States in the next 90 days? What part of that sounds credible?”
In recent days, talks have turned toward a compromise – giving Florida’s delegates half a vote in the Denver convention and splitting them proportionally based on the January results. Obama’s campaign says it will not support any compromise deal based on the Jan. 29 election; his supporters say delegates should be split evenly, since he did not campaign in the state. The Clinton campaign, as of March 17, was pushing for a traditional primary election. (According to a March 14 Associated Press report, Michigan is close to a deal to host a do-over primary.)
But as of March 17, the state party announced it would no longer seek a second election, and instead hoped the DNC could find a solution. State Democrats played a game of chicken and lost. Now the party is scrambling to find a way to salvage the wreckage, but with each passing day that looks increasingly firstname.lastname@example.org