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Primary lunacy

The Baltimore Sun

Florida, the state that exposed the myriad flaws in America's voting mechanics in 2000, has now revealed how little control political parties have over the presidential primary process.

Defying the Democratic National Committee, Florida leapt to near the head of the line on the primary calendar, and there's nothing the party can do about it except deny the state's delegates a vote at a nominating convention next summer that has been rendered meaningless, partly by all this wanna-be-first jockeying.

Florida's decision seems likely to set off a chain reaction of similar defiance, which in theory could launch the 2008 presidential nominating primaries as early as this fall. Perhaps then, the absurdity of this antiquated process will spark successful demands for long-overdue reform. Delaying the primaries until March - of the election year in question - and then conducting the balloting in perhaps four regional waves is among the more sensible proposals floated recently.

But precipitating such a useful change wouldn't excuse Florida Democrats for this shameful bid for more money and attention from presidential candidates. Florida is a big state with enough votes to demand attention almost whenever its primary is held. In 2000, the dispute over its general election vote count delayed the results for more than a month.

Democrats intended to begin their primary calendar with four small states that reflected regional diversity and required the candidates to engage in the retail campaigning that quickly becomes impossible in national contests. Recently, the party added South Carolina and Nevada to the two traditional leaders: Iowa and New Hampshire - all voting in January. Florida has upset that balance by scheduling its primary on Jan. 29. Now, Michigan has advanced its primary to Jan. 15.

Republicans have been engaged in similar leap-frogging, with the Wyoming GOP jumping to Jan. 5. Republican officials are also threatening to deny convention delegate votes to states that don't abide by the approved calendar.

Maryland, which moved both party primaries to Feb. 12 from March 4, is now scheduled to vote after perhaps half the states in the nation, when both party nominees will almost certainly be known.

That's why the nominating conventions don't mean anything anymore; they don't actually make the choice. Conventions have become merely a vehicle for the nominee to rally the troops and set the tone for the fall campaign. Florida doesn't need to have its delegates seated to join in the party.

More lunacy is surely ahead as states continue elbowing for position. The nuttier, the better, if it advances the cause for reform.

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