A Solution for Florida and Michigan: Part 1

People paying attention to the Democratic Presidential race know that Florida and Michigan were both stripped of all their delegates by the Democratic National Committee for holding their primaries before February 5 and that the Clinton and Obama campaigns are currently arguing about whether or not those delegates should be reinstated.  The Clinton campaign argues that the delegates should be reinstated because all votes should count.  The Obama campaign argues that the rules should not be changed in the middle of the contest.  This has created a conundrum for the Democratic Party which fought so hard to have all votes counted in Florida during the disputed 2000 election.  On the one hand, Democrats do believe that all votes should be counted; on the other hand, the party does not want to give one candidate an unfair advantage.  Additionally, the party wants to enforce discipline on the states to avoid chaos with the voting schedule in future elections. I’d like to analyze this issue and then propose a solution for it.

While I support the principle that “all votes should count”, that principle is intended to make sure that all voters who are eligible to vote and want to vote can do so and have their votes counted.  This principle is one among many designed to make sure that elections are fair and reflect the will of the electorate.   If an election is not fair, then it does not make sense to count any votes; instead, a new, fair election should be held.

An election is clearly not fair if some candidates are not on the ballot.  In the case of Michigan, Senator Obama was not on the ballot, so its primary was clearly unfair; it therefore would not be fair to Obama to seat the Michigan delegates based on the results of Michigan’s January 15th primary in which Senator Clinton won 55% of the popular vote.

In the case of Florida’s primary on January 29th, Obama and Clinton were both on the ballot.  At first glance, this suggests that it was a fair contest and that the DNC could count all votes from the primary without giving one candidate an unfair advantage.  There are two problems with this view: 1) Clinton was much better known to the Florida electorate than Obama and 2) Many Democrats might not have voted because they did not expect the primary to impact delegate selection.  Note that Obama started out far behind Clinton in the polls in many states but was able to close the gap and even win many contests after campaigning in those states.  While neither Obama nor Clinton could campaign or advertise in Florida, Clinton clearly had a big headstart in terms of name recognition.  Obama did not have an opportunity to overcome that initial advantage.

Additionally, people who did not vote because they thought Florida would not get any delegates might have done so if they had thought the DNC would reverse its decision afterwards.  If the results of the primary were recognized, the votes of these people would not be reflected.  1.7 million Floridians did vote in the Democratic primary, which is 2.27 times the 750,000 people who voted in the 2004 Democratic primary.  So, one might argue that Democrats in Florida ignored the DNC’s penalty and voted anyway.  However, one cannot really compare the numbers of votes in the two elections since the 2004 primary in Florida was held on 3/9/2004 by which point John Kerry had already locked up the nomination.  If one looks at some other states that held late primaries in 2004 but voted on Super Tuesday in 2008 one finds the following:

  • AL: 6/1/2004:  218,574,  2/5/2008:  539,743 , Ratio: 2.47
  • NJ: 6/8/2004: 214,000, 2/5/2008:  1.1 million,  Ratio: 5.14

These numbers suggest that the higher number of voters in the Florida 2008 Democratic primary could have been substantially higher if voters had expected delegates to be awarded to the candidates.  In the end, Clinton won 50% of the Florida popular vote while Obama won 33% and Edwards won 14%.  But we have no way of knowing how those other people who did not vote would have voted; it is possible that they would have voted with the same percentages, but it is also possible that Obama might have turned out more votes if he had been allowed to campaign.

Some would argue that it was not fair of the DNC to penalize Florida because the date of the primary was set by the Republican-dominated Florida legislature.  That doesn’t hold water with me.  Primaries and caucuses can be run either by the political parties or by the states.  Since primaries cost more money than caucuses, those states that do have primaries do tend to fund and run them which give these states the right to set the dates.  But the Florida Democratic Party did not have to participate in the January 29th primary; it could have held a caucus or primary on any date they wanted on or after February 5.  I understand why they wanted to hold a primary rather than a caucus (so that more voters could participate).  I also admit that it would have been a challenge for the Florida Democratic Party to fund a primary but I’ll argue below that they could have and still can overcome this challenge.

So, my conclusion is that neither of the primaries in Michigan and Florida were fair contests.  It therefore does not make sense to talk about counting all votes.  The only fair solution would be to have new contests, either primaries or caucuses, in both states.  Obama has indicated that he would be willing to participate in such contests as long as he and Clinton could compete fairly and have enough time to make their cases with the voters.

The solution most often suggested is for both states to organize caucuses for selecting delegates.  This is something that the DNC has encouraged.  In fact, the DNC even offered to give Florida $800,000 last summer to hold a 150 site caucus.  The reason caucuses rather than primaries are generally suggested is that it costs states much more money to hold primaries which involve many more voting sites and many more votes.  The Democratic Party in Florida estimated that a “vote by mail” primary would have cost $8 million.  The actual primary held in Michigan cost between $10 and $12 million.  Apparently, the state-level parties and the DNC do not have that kind of money or are not willing to spend it for this purpose.

I indicated at the beginning of this post that I would like to propose a solution to the problem.  Here it is: both Florida and Michigan could schedule new primaries and set up websites asking Democrats in their states to donate money toward funding them.  Additionally, the Clinton and Obama campaigns could both offer to contribute equal amounts of money from their vast warchests toward this purpose; I suggest each candidate could contribute $2.5 million to each state.  At the current rates the candidates are raising money, that would only represent about 3-5 days of fundraising for each of them.  Since 1.7 million Democrats voted in Florida in the January 29 primary and 3.6 million people voted for John Kerry in 2004, these voters could easily fund the remaining costs of a Florida primary if they each contributed $5-10 to Florida’s website.  While only 600,000 Democrats voted in the 2008 Michigan primary, 2.5 million people voted for John Kerry in Michigan in 2004; so Michigan Democrats could also easily make enough online donations to fund the expense of a second primary in their state.

Considering how many ordinary people are donating $100 or more directly to the candidates, I am confident that the Florida and Michigan primary websites would quickly raise the required funds to support state-wide primaries.  If they did not, one could then argue that the voters did not really care enough about having the delegates from their states seated at the convention. The DNC could then leave the current penalties standing.

Of course, contributions would not have to be restricted to the voters in Florida and Michigan.  I’m sure that many Obama and Clinton supporters across the country would make donations for this purpose.  In fact, it might not even be necessary for the states to set up their own websites.  Senators Obama and Clinton could each solicit donations from their supporters explicitly for the purpose of holding new contests in these states and accept the donations through their own websites.  They could then pass on such donations to the states.

I do think that the DNC should not seat any delegates from Florida or Michigan unless they do hold new contests of some kind.  I have two reasons for this.  First, it would clearly not be fair to Obama as previously discussed.  Second, it would set a bad precedent and lead to more primary chaos in future elections.  The DNC needs to send a clear message to the state parties that they have to obey the DNC’s rules.  Letting Florida and Michigan hold new contests would not undermine the DNC’s authority because these new contests would be sanctioned by the DNC and because the original pre-Super Tuesday contests would not have counted toward delegate selection.

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3 Responses to “A Solution for Florida and Michigan: Part 1”

  1. rberlind Says:

    My argument that the states could easily fund the costs of new primaries with websites is even stronger now that we know that Clinton and Obama raised $90 Million in February.

  2. Eric Peterson Says:

    I think state websites to raise money from individual contributers for a do over primary is a great idea. I would donate $100 for sure.

  3. Bob Jesse Says:

    Thanxs…Lets get the idea rolling…it really would mark the beginning of CHANGE and fair play…I just watched the SITUATION ROOM on CNN with Wolf Blitzer and Bill Schneider…pondering about…who is going to pay…well…I guess we know it already…call the camp…

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