Florida and Michigan Delegate Battle Lacks Common Sense

Now that the next Democratic primary is more than a month away, the party's factions are taking up the next big fight: if and how to seat delegates from the misbehaving states of Florida and Michigan, which were stripped of delegates by the Democratic National Committee for holding unauthorized primaries in early 2008.

The protests by Democratic Party leaders in Florida and Michigan, demanding that their delegates be seated, have increased in pitch in recent days, with the Florida Democratic Party, led by Hillary Clinton supporter, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., unveiling an extremely complicated and costly proposal to have Floridians vote by mail or in regional voting centers in early June.

Beyond the legal and administrative snags such a plan raises, from getting the Bush Justice Department to quickly sign off on a Democratic Primary (under the Voting Rights Act), to the Florida Legislature adopting a bill sanctioning the contest, to having Florida election officials and a private yet-unnamed firm conduct and count the voting by mail, to raising the millions to pay for it, the Florida revote poses some very big political issues. Michigan, meanwhile, is eyeing another primary, another multimillion-dollar proposition.

Of course, Florida and Michigan Democrats do not see that they are to blame for taking away their voters' voice in the nominating process. Then there's the irony that the very states that broke the DNC rules to have an early voice in the nominating contest now want to have the last word -- the primary season's final votes. And then there is the obnoxious maneuvering by the Clinton campaign to do anything to get Florida and Michigan's previous primary to count, even though it -- like all the Democratic presidential contenders -- pledged last summer to not campaign there and agreed no delegates would be seated.

You can hear it now, just as the Clinton campaign continues to claim that whoever wins Pennsylvania's April 22 primary is somehow uniquely qualified to be the nominee, so too will the argument be made about Florida's decisive "decider" role. Sorry, Michigan, but despite your governor's insistence that you, too, should get a revote (as long as your state doesn't spend a penny), Florida is ahead with proposing a multimillion-dollar revote plan.

Is there an alternative to this Machiavellian madness? The answer is yes, indeed, and it has been in plain view all along. DNC Chairman Howard Dean could emerge from monklike seclusion and insist on dividing the two state's delegates 50-50 between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. That has been talked about, but it's been glossed over as Clinton's campaigners continue to believe their road to the nomination is paved with delegates from Florida and Michigan.

The increasingly poisonous atmosphere surrounding the Florida proposal suggests that there is no other option that would not be seen as favoring one side or the other. Perhaps the Clinton camp's incessant protests are backfiring in this regard. But this way the party gets to seat delegates from all 50 states, Florida and Michigan are somewhat chastened for behaving badly by holding unauthorized primaries, and Democratic donors save perhaps $20 million that can otherwise be spent on defeating John McCain.

By midday Thursday, there was a glimmer of hope that common sense might be returning to the Florida-Michigan fray. The Associated Press reported that Florida Democratic Party Chair Karen Thurman said it was increasingly unlikely that her state would see a do-over election. In short, the clock is running out on such a proposal, because a new election would trigger all kinds of legal notices and warning periods pushing the date beyond early June.

With the DNC's credentials committee not scheduled to meet for weeks, it appears the delegate decision is landing on Howard Dean's desk. Surely the former Vermont doctor can make a decision, saving the patient (his party) by doing no harm (to the Clinton or Obama campaigns).


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