Give Hillary Michigan and Florida
Even though the two states violated Democratic National Committee scheduling rules, their primary wins should officially count for Hillary Clinton. Pro or con?
Pro: Make Every Vote Legitimate
A number of reasons exist for simply awarding delegates based on the results of January’s Michigan and Florida Democratic primaries. The cost of holding new primaries is more than the Democratic National Committee (DNC) wants to bear in an election year. Neither the state parties nor the state governments appear eager to pay the tens of millions of dollars a new round of primaries would cost.
The best argument, however, is a simple one: If a difficult choice exists between including voters or excluding them, there should be a bias in favor of inclusion. Traditionally, Democrats have stressed the democratic value of inclusion—even to the extent of changing existing rules to allow for greater participation in the electoral process.
The struggles to ensure voting rights for African-Americans by repealing the poll tax, encouraging naturalization for immigrants, and even restoring voting rights for felons have found some of their strongest champions in the Democratic party. As recently as 2000, the Democratic battle cry in Florida was to make sure every vote counted. In fact, the entire McGovern-Fraser [Commission] reform movement of the 1970s was sparked by a desire to democratize Presidential nominations and include more voices in the selection process.
In a perfect world, other alternatives would be readily available, such as using a caucus system. However, caucuses exclude absentee voters, including deployed members of our military. Scholarly research has also shown caucuses are biased against groups—such as minorities and the less affluent—whose voting rights the Democratic Party has fought to protect.
Real life requires responsible people and organizations to make difficult choices. When faced with an almost identical dilemma, the Republican Party made a Solomonic decision to accept the results of Florida and Michigan’s January primaries but penalized them half their delegate allocations. The Democratic Party may find that this choice is its least bad option.
Con: Punish Rule-Breakers
At first glance, little rationale—beyond a stubborn insistence on sticking to an arcane set of rules—exists to disenfranchise millions of Democratic voters. Nonetheless, there is good reason not to ratify the results of Florida and Michigan’s January primaries.
When the Democratic Party adopted the McGovern-Fraser reforms in the early 1970s, the party created a system of primaries and caucuses that were initially spread over a five-month period. Little-known candidates such as Jimmy Carter could build grassroots organizations in the few small states holding early contests. Momentum generated by these victories attracted media coverage, contributions, and voters in the races that followed. These “dark horses” were also aided by a voluntary system of federal financing, funding their initial forays while limiting the money spent by early front-runners.
The system created by McGovern-Fraser has collapsed for two reasons. First, the growing amount of money poured into Presidential nominations allowed well-financed candidates to forgo federal financing. Second, more states have moved their primary dates because states such as Iowa and New Hampshire had an influence disproportionate to their small delegate totals. While only four states held primaries before Mar. 15 in 1976, 26 states had primaries before that date in 2000.
However, this process, commonly known as “front-loading,” reduced the choices available to voters and drove down public interest and participation. To address front-loading, the DNC established the Price-Herman Commission. It allowed smaller, but more diverse, states such as Nevada and South Carolina to vote earlier, but drew a sharp line to keep larger states, such as Michigan and Florida, from moving their races into January.
Florida and Michigan knowingly crossed that line. The decision to refuse to seat democratically elected delegates has precedent. In 1972, Illinois voters elected a delegate slate to the Democratic convention that did not comply with the McGovern-Fraser reforms. The party seated a rival, non-elected contingent to emphasize the importance of following the new rules. The Democratic Party should make the same point in 2008.