04/08/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Florida Moves Ahead Despite DNC Threat

Floridians - accustomed to being at the heart of Democratic politics - refuse to sit on the sidelines, despite the punishment meted out by the national committee. They are proceeding "normally" in selecting delegates to meet party criteria, urging super-delegates to follow the mandates of their Jan. 29 primary and staging rallies to tell the DNC it had better seat them at the nominating convention or face defeat at the polls in November.

"We will be seated," said Democratic State and National Committeewoman Diane Glasser of Tamarac, who is a super-delegate. "There should be a settlement of this controversy soon." She also noted that there have been "reports and rumors" that Party chairman Howard Dean wants super-delegates to vote in July to avoid a battle rather than wait until the Convention "but that would mean the DNC breakings its own rules."

The latest proposal - one that seems to follow Democratic National Committee regulations - is to withhold one half of the delegates when a state (like Florida or Michigan) holds a primary earlier than allowed by party mandate. One Florida super-delegate John Ausman of Tallahassee, a respected long-time DNC member, has suggested seating all 211 Florida delegates and giving each one-half vote (instead of a full vote) as a face-saving proposal to satisfy everyone.

But, even that proposal is getting slapped down.

Supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton --who handily won the Florida primary in January
by 17 percentage points -- are asking that all delegates be given their rightful full vote at the August 25-28 convention in Denver. Supporters of Sen. Obama have said Florida broke party rules and its vote should not count.

The insult to Florida voters is playing right into the hands of the Republican party and its apparent standard bearer Sen. John McCain, the state's leading newspaper, the Miami Herald, has editorialized. It said the current state of party affairs would lead to a GOP victory--and, with it, Florida's 27 electoral votes, the fourth largest in the nation.

"I am horrified, absolutely horrified," said Ann Zucker, a delegate-elect and President of the Democratic clubs of Broward County. "Who would possibly think that loyal Democrats would be overlooked in selecting the party's nominee?"

"This is a bad situation," said another Democratic activist Barbara Effman, president of the West Broward Democratic Club and a Clinton-allied delegate-elect. "Both the party and State made a mistake, but a record number of voters should not be penalized."

The controversy gets hotter day by day. The latest bit of pandemonium came this weekend when Palm Beach county Democrats - home of the infamous 2000 "hanging chads" of Gore vs, Bush fame -- signed petitions and staged an unprecedented rally to persuade the DNC to seat the full Florida delegation, according to the January results. Sponsors of the rally - which included both Clinton and Obama devotees -- said they hope to ignite a nationwide grassroots movement in support of Sunshine State Democrats.

David Berrey, a 26-year old Marine Corps veteran recently back from Iraq, told the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, he wants to be counted. "The voters didn't choose when to vote and they shouldn't be punished for it."

Several legislators and party activists said the DNC better realize "quickly" that 1.7 million Florida Democrats made known their preference.

The State party will meet again next week in Orlando to vote on providing delegates from party leaders and elected officials who want to go to Denver, while a final group of delegates will be selected May 17 in Tampa to be sure the State delegation has enough women, men, seniors, gay and racial minorities in its mix to send to the national convention "just as we normally would do," a spokesperson said. Other delegates and alternate delegates were chosen on March 1 in each Congressional District, based on the results of the Jan. 29 primary.

Local media has been making much of the fact that Florida's 211 delegates are a "significant number in deciding the nomination."

"To ignore Florida, would be unthinkable," said Justin Flippen, president of the increasingly powerful Dolphin Democrats, headquartered in the Fort Lauderdale area. "I am sure the DNC will come to some sort of resolution prior to the Convention."

Meanwhile, Florida's lone Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson said he will propose a new nominating process based no longer on electoral votes (but on popular votes) and will also introduce legislation to hold rotating regional primaries in the future on pre-determined dates,

"Our current system is broken," said Nelson, who unsuccessfully sued his own party to force the DNC to recognize the January results. The Jan. 29 date, by the way, was set by the Republican-dominated legislature. The GOP has already cut Florida's Republican
delegation in half as punishment for the early vote.

The documents asking for a half-vote per delegate were sent by Attorney Ausman to the co-Chairman of the Credentials Committee James Roosevelt. Ausman and Janee Murphy, Secretary of the Florida Democratic Party, said they expected to go before the Committee at its meeting in Washington on April 14.

The Credentials Committee - which can make the final determination or risk a convention floor fight -- has about 200 members and has the power to decide who is seated at the party's nominating get-together. The half-vote proposal came as the last chance for a new primary by June 3 evaporated. Any chance for a re-vote is gone.

Michigan has a similar problem (it, too, had an earlier than mandated primary). But, doing a re-vote there - it was argued -- did not have the same logistical problems as it would have had in Florida, including the shift-over in new, as yet un-tested voting equipment and the question of who would shell out the estimated 10 to 12 million dollars estimated as the cost of another Florida election. There is also a daily reminder that only Clinton was on the Michigan ballot while Floridians had a choice of all Democratic candidates. Florida's Republican legislative majority say no state funds can be used for a re-vote and even Democrats oppose another costly election.

The comparison between Michigan and Florida doesn't matter anyway. The Michigan legislature adjourned without setting a new primary date, leaving that State in limbo, as well.

If the DNC and the candidates would agree to the newest Florida proposal ( ½ vote per delegate), Clinton would get an edge of about 19 first-ballot committed delegates, based on her lopsided victory in the Jan. 29 primary. There are also 25 Florida Super-delegates, out of some 800 party insiders nationally, who get to vote. Some insiders say Clinton has an edge there, too.

However, there is a general consensus that the l/2 vote solution would have little effect on the overall delegate count nationally as it stands today. Votes in Pennsylvania, Indiana and North Carolina as well as other states in May and June loom as the next big prizes and that could change things drastically, Democratic pundits are predicting.

In the meantime, don't count out Florida yet. Its leaders brazenly admit they enjoy being in the limelight, even if it is controversial.