Florida: Vote-by-Mail Do-over Gains Traction

03/28/2008 02:48 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

With nothing settled by Texas and Ohio, once again, we turn to Florida. The delegate math is such that it will be very difficult for either Democratic candidate to clinch the nomination with the remaining contests. Florida, currently stripped of its delegate count, holds 210 delegates (including 25 superdelegates, the majority of which are currently undecided or withholding their announcement).

Per DNC rules, only four states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina) are allowed to have their primary before the first Tuesday in February (aka Super Tuesday). Florida, as we all know, held their primary for both Republican and Democratic parties on Tuesday, January 29th. This was in clear violation of Rule 11.A of the Delegate Selection Rules of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and as a result, all of their delegates were stripped--including superdelegates.

A similar situation has occurred in Michigan, resulting in their delegates being stripped as well. However, there's a major difference between the two states and their situations, one that bears scrutiny. Florida's primary wasn't moved by the state Democratic Party as in Michigan's case, but instead was moved up by the Republican-controlled state legislature, where the GOP has a 2 to 1 majority. In other words, the Florida Democrats had little control over what happened. It's also something they'll have to plan for in the future, as it appears the change was a permanent one and now mandated by state law.

Given that this is the state of the infamous hanging chads and 2000 election recounts, it may raise suspicion that something like this could have occurred. Could it be a Republican plan to disenfranchise Florida voters yet again? Alejandro Miyar, the Florida Democratic Party press secretary, doesn't think this is the case: "You're giving them too much credit. The Republicans didn't believe that the DNC would follow through with their threat." It's important to note that the Florida Republican Party was also punished by this primary move: it was stripped of half its delegates by their national party.

More than a few people are arguing that the DNC's punishment is overtly harsh, given the situation. Miyar explains, "We were told that harsh sanctions were levied on us in part to dissuade states like Michigan to move up their date, too. Michigan moved up regardless."

Kenneth Curtis, a Maine superdelegate with a second home in Florida, agrees, "No one in the Democratic Party was trying to circumvent the date. I think it's been a horrible mistake and I hope it's corrected."

A number of people are clamoring to seat the delegates based on the Jan. 29th election and its results. A Tampa resident, Vic DiMaio, has actually sued the DNC in an attempt to get the delegates seated. While originally dismissed, the case is back in the courts, with 11th Circuit Court of Appeals hearing oral arguments. This could be yet another election decided on a court case in Florida.

DiMaio, and other like him, argue that unlike Michigan, all of the candidates were still on the ballot and there shouldn't be a do-over. (To remove their name from Florida's ballots, candidates would have had to renounce their entire national campaign, not just within the state.) Other say that with campaigning forbidden by the DNC, it's difficult to tell how well the voters knew the candidates and what type of exposure they had to them. They question whether the election was representative of the electorate if the voters weren't fully informed.

With a record-breaking 1.75 million Democrats turning out for the January 29th elections, it's clear that their voice should be heard. However, there is no easy answer to this primary quagmire. Republican Governor Charlie Christ has supported the idea of re-doing the Democratic Primary, but only if the Democrats foot the bill. According to the Florida Democratic Party, a statewide vote-by-mail program, supposedly one of the cheaper options, would cost up to eight million dollars, and a brand-new caucus would cost about the same. Needless to say, these two ideas are cost-prohibitive. The DNC has offered Florida $800,000 for a 150-site caucus, but as Miyar points out, Iowa had at least 2,000 sites for theirs. At a Florida caucus with only 150 sites, voter participation might be a paltry 120,000- certainly not representing the voice of the people.

In a recent conversation with Newsweek, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson said, "I called him [DNC Chair Howard Dean] to explain that if our only option to avoid this train wreck is a do-over, that the taxpayers of Florida are not gonna pay another $18 million ... The state legislature is meeting as we speak, cutting children's health, education and so forth. What I suggested is the money was gonna have to come from somewhere else. Dean thought there were outside sources that could directly contribute to the Florida Democratic Party ... So I have conveyed all this to the state party chairman."

The vote-by-mail program seems to be gaining traction this week, with reports both in Newsweek and Time suggesting that a deal was close, potentially using soft money to fund the new election. Lawyers for both the national and state Democratic party are examining the logistics and legality of this idea.

If funds were found and a new election was held, undoubtedly, the results would be different: the campaigns and their respective narratives and momentum are not what they were a few months ago. Again, the question of fairness is raised. Sen. Clinton's campaign may argue that it's best to seat the delegates now, based on the Jan. 29th elections, which she handily won, while Sen. Obama's campaign may argue for a do-over and campaigning within the state. Even if the money was obtained, convincing both campaigns to agree to the do-over might be another hurdle.

Thanks to the tight race, no one will be completely happy regardless of the outcome. If, by some chance, a clear Democratic front-runner is established and delegate math no longer matters, he or she will have the opportunity to invite Florida to the table, without do-overs, without arguments, and with open arms. That is certainly the hope for many, including Howard Dean, who has said, most recently on this past Tuesday's CNN's "The Situation Room" (link to transcript), he'd prefer to have a nominee before the convention starts: "...That solves all the problems of Florida and Michigan. And it solves unifying the party again."

Click here to read superdelegate interviews and profiles from OffTheBus's Superdelegate Investigation.