Thursday, March 06, 2008

In Florida, Worth Breaking the Rules

by Cody Lyon

There’s no denying that seating Democratic Party delegates from Florida and Michigan at the party’s convention in August would be controversial and potentially divisive since both States held their primaries on dates that violated party rules

As it stands, Senator Hillary Clinton stands to gain the most if they are seated and counted, so her campaign is working the system to try and make sure that happens.

Still, in Michigan’s case, a do-over of the primary, or a caucus, would probably be the only way to settle that state’s mess and re-empower voters since Clinton was the only candidate on the ballot in the state’s primary.

But down in Florida, it’s a different story altogether. While neither candidate campaigned in the sunshine state, both Clinton and Obama were on the primary ballot.

Further, there’s a common misperception fueled by the common rhetorical reference in the press and elsewhere to “Florida’s decision” to move the state’s primary to January.

It was not Florida Democratic ‘voters’ who made that decision, but instead, a Republican Governor and a Republican majority Legislature that passed HB 537 which changed the state’s primary date to January 29, ahead of February 5, which we all know now was in violation of national Democratic Party rules.

As a result of this violation, 1.75 million sunshine state voters may not be heard in August. Some are saying if that happens, the issue would move beyond politics and instead become a case of massive voter disenfranchisement.

And, while much of the growing effort to seat the Florida delegates in August has come from Clinton supporters who now see Florida as a decisive political factor that would work in their favor at the convention, there is a deeper concern for all voters that should be considered.

Any attempts by party officials to deny the voice of almost 2 million Florida voters would violate what many see as one of our most treasured rights.

It certainly would not be the first time in our nation’s history that “rules” have been used to discourage, take away or prevent entire swaths of US citizens from being allowed to participate in the political process. We now regard many of those rules with shame.

Regardless, it wasn’t so long ago that certain rules prevented Women and African American citizens from casting vote that would count in elections. Even as little as 50 years ago, in certain parts of the nation, black people were unable to vote thanks to absurd rules like poll taxes and other discriminatory tactics at polling places like reciting the state’s constitution before being allowed to even register to vote.

Fortunately, through the efforts of countless foot soldiers and brave political and judicial leaders, most of those rules rooted in racism and sexism were done away and eventually, voter empowerment for all citizens became an increasingly recognized as the precious right it is, and with that that we saw a greater attempts at distribution of voter equity in our democracy.

Despite the hard fought struggle for voter equality, over the past few decades, political disenchantment and other factors have led to decreasing national voter turnouts that have on average, been only around 50 percent according to the United States Census Beureau.

But, this particular 2008 election cycle is different.

The bells of politics are ringing through the internet, other media, street corners, bars, churches, activist organizations, school campuses and entire communities in every state, county and city all fueled by dialogue and debate that has led to a level of political engagement unlike anything witnessed in recent history.

There is a pronounced collective thirst for change and new leadership, largely the result of eight years of what many call a failed Republican White House and administration that has led to national malaise, partly the result of a nightmare called Iraq and an economy on the brinks of recession. Across the nation, voters are heading to polls in record numbers holding tight to the core belief that every person’s vote will count and effect the direction this nation takes in the future.

No doubt, our convoluted current system of selecting delegates to party conventions is confusing and flawed. But as it stands now, it’s the closest thing we can come up with in selecting the best candidates for the more important contest in November.

And, despite rules over when those votes were cast, any attempt to disenfranchise a voter, much less an entire state, regardless of what party officials point to as guidelines, is fundamentally wrong. Such a move threatens the very spirit of our democracy unless there is a tangible and workable solution that gives every voter a voice in the selection process.

According to a March 1, press release from the Florida Democratic Party, the state’s Party Chairwoman said “the party continues to move ahead with our delegate selection process, and we’re looking forward to our delegation being seated in Denver.”

The press release said the diversity of its delegation would be strong, representing the diversity that Florida is a delegation of multiple ethnicities, incomes, sexual orientations and genders.

And as Florida well knows, there have been questionable tactics and behaviors that have led to some of the country’s greatest scars in electoral history.

The hope is that in August, the elected delegates of Florida’s Democratic Party will be seated, and with them, the almost two million voices of Florida voters who went to the polls in January because that’s when their state’s officials told them they should go, will be heard. And, while some say that recognition of Florida’s delegates might threaten national party unity, there are still others who warn there are more important values within the concept Democracy itself that trump political aspiration and party cohesion.



Anonymous said...

So long as they find a way to do it that doesn't allow anyone to vote twice. A republican could have voted for McCain back in January. That saw this re-do and registered Democrat and get to vote twice. Never before in the history of the US has anyone been able to vote twice for President.

Anonymous said...