Disenfranchising Michigan and Florida?

The mess the Democrats have made for themselves


The vote was once denied to women. It was denied to blacks. It was denied to those without land. And today, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm tell us, it is being denied to their people.

The Democratic and Republican parties are depriving them of delegates to the nominating conventions because they held their primaries too early, and the governors are horrified at this treatment. "The right to vote is at the very foundation of our democracy," they said in a statement.

"It is intolerable that the national political parties have denied the citizens of Michigan and Florida their votes and voices at their respective national conventions."

Hear that sound? It's a tiny sad song, being played on the world's smallest violin.

Let's review what happened here. Back in 2006, the Democratic National Committee approved rules for when states could hold their primaries. They decreed that no states except Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina could vote before Feb. 5—and that any state jumping the gun would lose its convention delegates. (The Republican National Committee cancelled just half of their delegates.) According to the DNC, the members from Florida and Michigan supported that policy.

But then some people in those states had a better idea. They were sick of seeing Iowa and New Hampshire hog all the attention. So the legislatures and governors decided to flout the approved schedule and hold their primaries in January. They figured they were so big and important that the presidential candidates would show up to campaign anyway—and that the party would ultimately cave in and seat their delegates.

Saul Anuzis, head of the Michigan Republican Party, summed up the prevailing sentiment among politicians on both sides of the aisle: "We understand that this violates the rules of both the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee. We don't care."

But come 2008, the defiant ones got a surprise: Their ploy was a bust. The Democratic candidates all refused to campaign in either state (the exception being Dennis Kucinich). If that's not bad enough, the Democratic Party has refused to budge.

Says DNC Chairman Howard Dean, "You can't change the rules in the middle of the game. Florida and Michigan voted for a set of rules and then decided that unlike the other 48 states, they would do something different. That's not fair, and it doesn't respect either the Clinton campaign, the Obama campaign, or the other 48 states."

But Crist and Granholm are not alone in protesting. Hillary Clinton feels their pain. As a press spokesman said last week, "The people of Florida and Michigan have already voted, and their voices ought to be heard. That's why Senator Clinton is urging her delegates to vote to seat both delegations at the convention."

What a surprise. After all, she won both. But she owes her victories to the fact that her opponents didn't campaign in Florida or Michigan. Having profited because her rivals followed the rules, she now wants to benefit because those states didn't.

Barack Obama's campaign, on the other hand, has floated the novel idea of putting aside the results and simply splitting the delegates evenly between him and Clinton. That option would have the completely unintended effect of keeping his current delegate lead perfectly intact.

It's true that if the DNC stands firm, the people of Florida and Michigan may have no role in choosing the nominee. But Crist and Granholm shouldn't blame the DNC for that—they should blame themselves. The DNC apparently would be willing to let them have "do-over" caucuses or primaries.

But those would cost millions of dollars, which neither the states nor the state parties want to spend. And the DNC says it won't pay them to do what they should have done in the first place.

Of course, the DNC could simply surrender and let those who broke the rules get away with it—thus assuring that next time, there will be primaries in December or November or October instead of January.

Better to tell the state parties that they chose to forfeit their delegates and their choice will be respected. If losing out makes the politicians in Florida and Michigan unhappy, I can speak for most people in the rest of the country in saying: We don't care.