Fla. Democrats offer plans to rerun primary

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- Florida Democrats, searching for a way out of their mess of a presidential contest, unveiled a detailed plan yesterday for rerunning the state's primary election by mail. There was one big problem: Hardly anyone who mattered liked the idea.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton rejected it - one of the few things the candidates have agreed on lately. Florida's entire House Democratic delegation panned it. Even the plan's architect - Karen Thurman, the state party chairwoman - acknowledged there were enormous obstacles to carrying it out.

Welcome to another day in the life of the Democratic Party, where a scheduling dispute over two primary elections is threatening to turn what could be a bumper crop political year into a bust.

Every day they talk about the problem, they are not talking about issues, like the economy, that voters care about. "Process issues are losers," said Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster. "Nobody cares about it. It doesn't put food on the table. It doesn't help them with their daily life."

The dispute centers on Florida and Michigan, which held presidential primaries in January, earlier than national party rules allowed. As punishment, the Democratic National Committee said the states' delegations would not be seated at the party's convention in August, where presumably either Clinton or Obama will be formally nominated.

Now, many Democrats want to lift that punishment because it risks alienating voters in two of the country's largest states. But the bickering and uncertainty about what to do are taking a toll.

The dilemma is particularly great in Florida, home of the controversial 2000 presidential recount. A poll this week found that 31 percent of Florida Democrats said they would be less likely to vote for the party's presidential nominee if the state's delegation is not seated at the convention.

But solutions are hard to come by, as illustrated by the state party's plan for revoting, which was widely treated as dead on arrival.

A variety of proposals have been floated, most of them serving the interests of one candidate or the other. Ideas are percolating on the Internet and behind closed doors.

The options being discussed include:

Honoring the results of the January primaries. This is what Clinton wants, because she won both of those contests. But Obama was not on the ballot in Michigan, and neither candidate actively campaigned in either state.

After Clinton said in remarks broadcast Wednesday that the Michigan results were "fair" and should be counted, Obama said: "I think you could ask my 6-year-old whether that was fair, and she would probably be able to say, 'No, it isn't.'"

Holding a do-over election. Many Obama supporters say this is not fair, because it amounts to changing the rules in the middle of the game. The states knew the potential consequences of violating party rules and should not get a second chance at voting, they say.

Clinton, who has done best in states that held their primary contests by election rather than caucuses, favors this option if the January results are not honored. The Florida Democratic Party ruled out this idea because of concern about the high cost of a full do-over primary. Top Michigan Democrats are privately weighing this option.

Holding a do-over caucus. Obama has generally done better than Clinton in caucuses. But Clinton and other critics say caucuses are undemocratic, in part because it is hard for some voters to attend the meetings where ballots are cast.

That difficulty could be eased by holding so-called firehouse caucuses. These would differ from the sort of caucuses held in Iowa and Nevada in that balloting would take place all day, not during a limited window of time, and voting would be done by secret ballot.

Arranging a mail-in vote. The Florida party's plan would mail ballots to the state's 4.1 million Democrats. Voters could mail the ballot back or turn it in at a regional voting center.

The idea is backed by the state's Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, but opposed as not realistic by its House Democratic delegation - which includes supporters of both Clinton and Obama. Critics of the mail ballot warn that it would be hard to verify signatures to avoid fraud; some even question the legality of Florida's election officials being involved in overseeing a party-run primary. Critics also worry that many low-income people would not receive a ballot, because their addresses tend to change frequently.

Allocating and seating the Florida and Michigan delegates without a revote. Obama supporters in Michigan have proposed splitting the contested delegates 50-50; Clinton's supporters say that is unfair, because she won 55% of the vote there. Others have proposed more complicated formulas for allotting delegates or reducing their voting power at the convention.

Janet Hook writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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