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.