Worshipping at the Voting Booth

Florida voters vote not to vote. Thanks, gods.


If Florida had a Homeric epithet (think Hector, tamer of horses) it would be "Florida, wrecker of elections." To Hades with "the Sunshine State."

This winter, the Florida Democratic party moved their primary up to a week before Super Tuesday, eager for the nation to watch its pilgrimage to the voting booth with bated breath once again. The national party warned that there would be consequences for states that jumped the line, and lo and behold: The Florida Democrats were stripped of their convention delegates.

And now, with Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) scratching each others' eyes out all the way to the finish line, Florida, wrecker of elections—along with Michigan, builder of iron horses—could well be the decider.

Of the denuded delegates, 210 of them in Florida and 156 in Michigan, Clinton said yesterday in Detroit, "This goes way beyond this election and it goes way beyond who's running, because no matter where you were born or how much money you were born into, no matter where you worship or the color of your skin, it is a bedrock American principle that we are all equal in the voting booth."

Americans have long manifested a near-worshipful attitude toward voting—"I Voted!" stickers serving in the place of a smudge or ashes on the forehead or a yarmulke. But of course, Clinton isn't talking about principle: It's politics in the purest possible form. Voting always is. (The bit about skin color and trust funds is a red herring.) Clinton wants those votes to count because they'd be hers—she won Florida with a little more than 50 percent to Obama's 33 percent, and Michigan with 55 percent of the vote (Obama wasn't on the ballot). Obama's lawyers are concerned about possible revotes, which they dubbed "unprecedented in conception and proposed structure." He didn't win those states the first time around, and they'd rather not rock the boat with Obama leading by about 100 delegates at the moment. That's a margin of safety he stands to lose if the rebellious states are counted or recounted.

With speculation about a possible do-over in the air, the Florida state party took the question to the people: Do you want to vote again? "The consensus is clear," wrote Rep. Karen L. Thurman, the chair of the Florida Democratic Party, in an email to Florida Democrats. "Florida doesn't want to vote again. So we won't." After years of voting out of a sense of duty, honor, righteousness, Floridians have cottoned on to electoral cause-and-effect: Every time someone pokes a hole in a butterfly ballot or fingers a touchscreen in the Florida peninsula, something goes horribly wrong.

(Michigan, nowhere near as chastened, has a June 3 statewide redo of the open primary in the works, though exact procedures and who will foot the bill are unclear.)

Who can blame Florida for wanting to opt out? The ancient Greeks believed that failure to sacrifice an ox or horse to Poseidon, god of the sea, brought shipwreck, earthquakes, and bad fishing. Failure of Floridians to vote correctly seems to bring a similar plague on our ship of state. Worse than a trident-wielding god of the sea, they brought out blogging Michael Moore, who thundered that the 2000 vote mess in Florida was the culmination of Kristallnacht.

The Greek gods bore grudges and played politics incessantly, often conducting their personal vendettas by picking sides in the human battles on the plains of Troy. They demanded sacrifices because they enjoyed the smell of roasted meats burned in homage—an act that made mortal feel important, holy even—but only let such gestures influence outcomes on the margins.

"Generations of brave men and women marched and protested, risked and gave their lives for this right and it is because of them that Sen. Obama I stand before you as candidates for the Democratic nomination," Hillary Clinton said in Detroit, sounding downright Olympian in her pleasure at the sacrifices made on her behalf.

Florida and Michigan are battlegrounds, not for principle, but for pride and victory. Politicians will be politicians, but Florida's voters have graciously bowed out, turning down the chance to indulge in the sacred rite of voting twice in the same contest. For that, one can almost forgive them the havoc they've caused.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is an associate editor of reason.

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  1. I think simply saying “It’s Florida.” would be answer enough for me, and I assume for most others as well.

  2. We’re just mocking your democratic pretensions, America.

  3. It seems appropriate that the link to the article about Florida elections is broken.

    As to why this is, just ask

  4. Young punks like Katherine Mangu-Ward think they know everything.

    I was in Korea, dammit! Get off my lawn!

  5. There’s a reason why Florida is the only state with its own Fark tag.

  6. I have this crazy theory that says gov’t just generally isn’t very good at running things.

  7. Didn’t the GOP controlled state legislature move the primaries up, and not the Florida Democratic Party? The party’s big sin was not challenging the legislature’s actions? Maybe I’m wrong, but the Googles are all filled with the primary do-over stories that I can’t find info on the original plan to move the primary up.

  8. Flordia: We want attention! We’re moving our primary up!

    DNC: If you do that, your votes won’t count. Remember, we make the rules on this.

    Flordia: WE WANT TO VOTE EARLY! We’re doing it, and you can’t stop us!

    DNC: Fine, but your votes won’t count. You’ve been warned.

    *Florida votes early*

    Florida: Now our votes don’t count! That’s not fair! We’re being disenfranchised!

    Is that about it? Did I miss something?

  9. Florida must feel like Waterloo to the Democrats. Maybe if they’d just quit trying to change the rules when the vote doesn’t go exactly the way they want… Nah, that’s crazy talk.

  10. Actually, I don’t think voting rights are worth dying over. Some of the rights they can be used to secure are, but not the vote itself.

  11. Lamar,

    The Democrats in the Florida legislature voted to more the primary up, too.

  12. It was the State Legislature (GOP holds veto proof majorities) that moved the primary date up. The Florida Democrats could have decoupled their primary from the State Primary, but then they’d have had to pay for it, and come up with some caucus-like event that they’ve never done before (which would surely have been an even bigger disaster). So I don’t think the Florida Democrats are to blame. And the stated reason for the Legislature moving the primaries up was to have them count for something, and get higher turnout. They got record turnout, the primary was critical on the Republican side, and you can’t argue that it isn’t getting its share of attention on the Dem side. If anybody screwed up here, its the DNC, who made a threat they thought would never come to fruition just to protect the egos of NH and Iowa.

  13. The Florida bill, House Bill 537 (yes, that’s the same number of votes Gore lost by) was introduced as a Senate bill by a Democrat and passed 116-1 in the House and 37-2 in the Senate. Quote – from the sponsor, Democrat Jeremy Ring – “I think we have sucessfully blown up this antequated primary process . . I have no regrets.”

  14. Political parties should ALL pay for their own damned primaries!

  15. As a Floridian, from what I could gather on this after the fact (being a registered Lib in a state with open primaries, I didn’t care at the time vis-a-vis DNC threats), the same bill that moved up the primaries also scrapped our hideously bad Pretty-Pony-My-First-Touchscreen voting machines in favor of the soon-forthcoming system.

    A lot of Dems in the state legislature are swearing up and down that they were voting for that.

    Whatever. I just mention it because some might consider it relevant. To me, it’s the same dog and pony show, and the only *good* thing about all this is that this year, my girlfriend is so annoyed with the whole process that she’s actually deciding to stop being apathetic about the actual mainstream candidates and research them rather than rely on sound bites, CNN, and Fox.

    My ex-roommate, the anarchist to my minarchist, and frequent debating partner, considers this a good first step in her political evolution and we’re actually quite proud of her. Silver linings, and all that.

  16. Political parties should ALL pay for their own damned primaries!

    Can I have an Amen brothers and sisters?


  17. Florida? But that’s America’s wang!

  18. typo, kmw?

    “Generations of brave men and women marched and protested, risked and gave their lives for this right and it is because of them that Sen. Obama [and] I stand before you as candidates for the Democratic nomination,” Hillary Clinton said…

    No one made the democratic national party refuse to acknowledge Florida’s delegates but the democratic national party. Thanks for exemplifying the concept “hoist on one’s own petard”, now STFU.

  19. That’s so crazy it just might work!

  20. “The Democrats in the Florida legislature voted to move the primary up, too.”

    Thank you for the info.

  21. Didn’t the GOP controlled state legislature move the primaries up, and not the Florida Democratic Party?

    Yeah, but the Dems all voted for it too.

    Ironically, they’d have been much, much better off holding their primary later anyway.

  22. So, does that make it more or less likely that the parties will do something about Iowa and New Hampshire?

  23. So, does that make it more or less likely that the parties will do something about Iowa and New Hampshire?

    I’ve never understood why both the national parties genuflect before two relatively unimportant states. Maybe it didn’t matter much in the old days.

  24. Because they’re both swing states, TallDave.

    Go ahead, YOU change the calender first, says each of the parties. I totally won’t stab you in the back and win the state in the general election.

  25. Why can’t their state committee just elect a slate of delegates?

  26. Look there’s like 5 motivated people in my entire homeland, the rest of us really don’t care. We vote when we feel like it, and then count it on our own time…and when we taly the votes it just has to be close enough cuz that’s a lot of work. The rest of the country can just deal.

  27. Because they’re both swing states, TallDave.

    Well, statistically irrelevant swing states.

    I mean, c’mon, if being a swing state is the criteria for going first, why isn’t Michigan the first primary?

  28. I’m with RC on this. If it’s all about bowing before swing states, FL and MI should be first up to bat, given their significant blocs of electoral votes.

  29. Good points, RC.

    I wasn’t saying it was a good idea to have them go first, just explaining why the parties won’t change the system.

    The Democrats under Dean actually made a, well, a half-assed, middling attempt. The put Nevada in between Iowa and NH. Iowa was still the first contest, and New Hampshire was still the first primary. In doing so, it set off a series of date changes that culminated in the Florida/Michigan staredown with the DNC.

    Hopefully, that won’t be the end of election calendar reform. In an odd way, this might put Dean and the Florida and Michigan Democrats on the same side.

  30. In Florida, the Republicans could push the new date through due to majorities in the legislature and a Republican governor.

    However, in Michigan, Governor Jennifer Granholm is a Democrat. She could have vetoed it, but didn’t. The majority of blame lies on her shoulders there.

    Florida is messier, but the Democratic Party of Florida still could have had (and still can, frankly) a caucus or other non-state run election. They refused to (and many Dems voted with the Republicans, anyways).

  31. If either party wanted to be serious about getting an electable president, they’d start the primary voting first in the states where the race was tightest in the general election in the last one or two election cycles, and end with the states where it was a blowout. States like Wisconsin and New Mexico should go first, states like Utah or Massachusetts last.

  32. I actually think that state legislatures should have no control over political party primaries. While it may be hard to believe, parties are never actually mentioned in the Constitution and, presumably, should be treated as private organizations-subject to normal laws of behavior (not killing people, stealing, destroying, etc.) but being allowed to make their own internal rules without government interference. Of course, this would probably lead to closed primaries, which would technically have kept me from being able to cast my vote for Ron Paul, but it was kind of a moot point anyway. And maybe this system would cause people to say “to hell with the party organization” like they did in the 1820’s, when the candidates chosen by Congressional caucuses failed to get an electoral majority, and finally lost with the election of Andrew Jackson, a relative outsider.

  33. Of course, I don’t particularly like Andrew Jackson’s legacy, so maybe the smoke-filled room system of nominations wasn’t all bad.

  34. Looks like it’s up to me to be the first commenter to appreciate KMW’s allusions to Homer. By chance, I happen to be listening to an audiobook of the Iliad these days. I thank whichever one of the deathless gods is responsible for that synchronicity.

  35. When it comes to voting, Florida is the little old lady doing 40 in the fast lane with her blinker on.

  36. Since you refer to Homer, let’s remember what started all that fuss in the first place –

    “The war originated from a quarrel between the goddesses Athena, Hera and Aphrodite, after Eris, the goddess of strife and discord, gave them a golden apple, sometimes known as the Apple of Discord, marked “for the fairest”. – wiki

    Three thousand years, drama and behavior haven’t changed much.

  37. Former Cheif-Justice Renquest explained it pretty well in his opinion in Bush v. Gore. It boiled down to they don’t read or follow directions.

  38. Also- the Republican delegates from Florida were disallowed as well. This situation could just as easily have happened to the Republicans, so its just not factual to argue the Republican Florida Congress set this up as some kind of scam to screw the Dems. It was a bipartisan bill that in fact did exactly what it indended to do.

    “HB 537 _gives priority to selecting a candidate rather than sending more delegates to a convention._ By having an early and strong voice in the primary season, Floridians will be properly represented at the national convention through their early selection of their parties’ eventual nominees.”

    Representative Ellyn Bogdanoff (Rep), Majority Whip Florida House

    This bill passed with no opposition. Its pretty obvious the Florida legislature as a whole was willing to sacrifice its delegates for the prestige of having an early primary, this was intentional.

  39. I think Wisconsin might have an issue with your designation of Michigan as “builder of iron horses.”

  40. “””Its pretty obvious the Florida legislature as a whole was willing to sacrifice its delegates for the prestige of having an early primary, this was intentional.”””

    Exactly, and they didn’t care about the penalty. I say follow the rules, seek to have them changed if you disagree. It’s funny that Flordia acts like such a law and order state so they should have a problem with the DNC’s penalty.

  41. Correction, FL shouldn’t have a problem with the DNC’s penalty

  42. Typical. If you think “Florida” is the cause of all this, youre simply an idiot. The Florida representatives in the House & Senate are to blame but it’s so stereo-typical to just blame the whole state. Well go ahead. We down here in Florida are living in the sunshine while the rest of you morons are either freezing, flooding or dealing with Mother Natures wrath. We could give a rats *** what you think. And when McCain is President, well, we don’t need to wait for a “thank you, thank God and thank Florida.” You’re welcome!

  43. The election may have been set early but there’s nothing in election that indicates it’s results were invalid. Both candidates were on the ballot and a fair inpartial vote free of irregularities picked Hillary over Obama. There’s no reason for a re-vote. Either count the delegates as the previous election calls for their appropriation, as is the tradition in true democracies, or follow DNC traditions and rules that say the egos of the Iowa farmers and their right to go first is more important than another states’ vote and don’t count them. Those are there choices and Florida should make no apologies for not wanting waste scarce taxpayer’s money on a second vote when the only problem with the first one was it violated the sensibilities of Iowa farmers, who have been living off federal farm subsidies paid for by taxpayers from all 50 states, including Florida.

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