Tuesday March 18, 2008

What's up with a Florida primary?

It was decided yesterday that there will not be a re-vote for Florida’s Democratic primary. The story so far (skip to next graff if you’ve been following the news): Last year, the Florida legislature decided to move our primary up to January 29th in this primary season. The Democratic National Party had previously decided that no state, except four that have historically had early primaries, could have a primary before February 5th (Super Tuesday), and threatened to not seat Florida’s delegates at the convention, i.e. to not count our votes. The conventional wisdom at the time was that since most candidates are determined on Super Tuesday, Florida’s primary would count where it mattered — by giving a candidate “momentum” — and that actual delegate votes at conventions haven’t decided a nominee in decades. Except that the subsequent primaries have been very close, and there now appears the very real chance that Florida could have been the deciding vote, leading everyone to look for a way to fix the mess.

The response that you hear often to this is, “well, Florida knew the rules when it made the decision to have an early primary.” It’s shocking how often statement to this effect are repeated without being questioned. “Florida” is not a sentient being. The decision was made by one group (Florida state legislature) and impacts another group (Florida voters). To say that our elected officials disenfranchised us and that’s all there is to it reeks. So what now? Well, counting the vote goes against the rules that were established at the beginning of the process (= not democratic). Not counting the vote disenfranchises Florida voters (= not democratic). And re-voting has been determined to be unfeasible, not to mention an affront to those that voted on January 29th (so also = also not democratic).

So what’s the solution? Well, there is none; not for this election. The whole thing is dominated by realpolitik self-interest (e.g. I’m a Barack Obama supporter, so I should be happy that Florida isn’t being counted, as it was won by Hillary Clinton). There are lessons to be learned, however, starting with the fact that the whole primary system is an anti-democratic catastrophe in need of overhaul. Other then “because it was always so,” why should Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina have a more influential voice in selecting the president then any other state? Why do some states hold “caucuses,” some “elections,” and some (I smell Texas) such convoluted combinations that nobody even tries to explain them? And what’s up with “super-delegates,” anyway?

This, my friends, is no way to elect a president. The whole system is screwed (you can tell, in part, by looking at the men it has elected for the last 40 years or so). There are lots of ways to have an election, all with their valid criticisms, but all better then this. (Interjection: And what about Ralph Nader? What’s up with him??) Let’s pick a system and go with it. Do I think that’s going to happen? No, not yet. It’s going to take a few more disasters like this first. But it’s on the way.

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  1. Rick    Tue Mar 18, 08:59 AM #  

    It’s always a good idea to know how to spell the name of the candidate you’re supporting.


    Just sayin’.


  2. b.a.c.    Tue Mar 18, 10:55 AM #  

    Florida, the but of every political joke in this country. And I agree, why the fuck do we have caucuses and primary’s? Why can’t we all just vote on the same day? And why the hell isn’t Nov. 4th a national holiday? Wouldn’t you think it would be wise to give people days off to go vote? Especially in highly contentious elections when more than the below average comes out?

  3. Lolo    Tue Mar 18, 01:46 PM #  

    Thanks for raising a seemingly overlooked question people have been wondering about… WHO exactly is the group/person who decided “Let’s just have Florida’s primary early and whether or not the votes count can be damned!” Can anyone shed some light on this? What was the rationale behind it? Alas, seems like more shady dealings in the Sunshine State’s political climate…

  4. squathole    Tue Mar 18, 02:19 PM #  

    The decision was made by one group (Florida state legislature) and impacts another group (Florida voters).

    Well, no. That’s just wrong. The “one group” exists for the specific, legally defined purpose of representing the other group. It’s how laws get passed in a democracy. That’s how the system works. It’s not a question of somebody calling the shot in a race where he doesn’t have a pony, which is what you describe it as here.

    Did they fuck up? Damn betcha. They’re good at it. Which was Don Tequila’s point in the Obalesque post.

    P.S. Why did this entire post also appear here: http://www.teachersmailroom.com/whats-up-with-a-florida-primary-1/
    but without attribution to CM?

  5. nonee moose    Tue Mar 18, 02:44 PM #  

    Near as I can tell, the impetus behind the date change was to have Florida take a more prominent role in the primary season. The Legislature passed the bill last session. I don’t know what the vote breakdown was, but given the overwhelming R majority in both chambers, it is not unreasonable to assume it was the brainchild of the majority. There may have been a fair amount of D’s who voted for it as well. The national parties have different rules to govern the behavior of state parties, and it seems that every legislator knew, coming in, the extent to which the proposed move would conflict with their respective national party rules. Yes, the move was in conflict even with the RNC rules, so it can be further assumed that there was at least some measure of “chicken” being played between the legislative R majority and its own national party as well. (In the end, the RNC dinged Florida half its convention delegates, but the significance of that penalty is now all but moot)

    The irony of it all is that the 2000 election debacle that thrust Florida into the spotlight has been interpreted by some to mean that Florida was important to the process in its own right, somehow better than the rest, deserving of greater traditional prominence than Iowa or any of the other early states. That for some reason, it needed to stand out because, well, this is Florida, swing state extraordinaire, elector of Presidents. The Kingmaker State!

    It turns out, all we had was a “Kick Me” sign on our back.

    PS. A word on “super-delegates”, the exclusive creation of the D party: It just goes to show that even in the party of the masses, the party of Everyman, where all are welcome and equal, some are just more equal than others. A super-delegate is an insider who has managed to extend the time, and raise the stakes, to cut a deal.

  6. alesh    Tue Mar 18, 03:11 PM #  

    Rick~ Touche. Fixed it.


    Yes, I understand the point of representation. But it doesn’t make it invalid to be pissed off about the situation — when you say “they got what they asked for” it’s important to realize that the two “they’s” do not refer to the same group of people.

    Plus, there’s something odd and question-begging about elected officials deciding on matters that effect whether the votes of their constituents count or not.

  7. Grizz    Tue Mar 18, 03:31 PM #  

    so i guess this means, once again, the voters vote in Florida are again not counted. this is the government encouraging everyone to get out and vote and be heard and not listened to.

    p.s. yea, Nov. 4th should be a nation holiday.
    p.p.s.s. the “Kick Me” sign is so appropriate.

  8. alex    Tue Mar 18, 04:50 PM #  

    Yeah, it was the brainchild of the majority and yes, mant Dems voted for it. It was a fait accompli even if the Dems had opposed it, so primary responsibility for the fiasco lies at the feet of Howard Dean and Howard Dean alone who could have said to the complaining states “your paltry votes don’t mean much in the general election” and be done with it (I’m sure that him being a Northeastener insider had nothing to do with it either). What were they going to do, boycott the primaries?

    Alesh’s larger point, the nomination system being fucked up, is completely valid. It will be changed after this fiasco.

  9. srcohiba    Tue Mar 18, 07:22 PM #  

    reason why each state has different rules is because the constitution says the states decide the process.

    there are pros and cons to a national primary such as the candidates will ignore small states for the big ones

    but the dems should have done what the gop did. the gop took away 1/2 of the florida delegates as punishment.

    but I agree, why should iowa, new hampshire and south carolina have to go first. it’s moronic

  10. Squathole    Tue Mar 18, 10:03 PM #  

    People have complained about the primary process for decades, now, and all the gripes about NH going first, and how there ought to be a series of regionals, etc., have been kicked back and forth ad nauseum.

    All miss the point.

    These primary exercises aren’t about selecting a candidate. They’re all about raising and spending money. Reforming the system threatens the cash flow by reducing the impact of isolated media markets on sales and fund raising. It reduces the impact of individual and isolated power brokers on the local as well as the national level. E.g., the Georgia primary depends on winning the favor of some bumblefuck redneck editor in Macon a whole lot more than a regional affair that could ignore him, and woo instead the Atlanta Urinal-Constipation.

    You Dems and ‘Pubs don’t get the bigger picture, which, in a nutshell is, You Don’t Count For Shit. Get over it.

  11. alesh    Tue Mar 18, 10:45 PM #  


    The thing is… I’m neck-deep into John Adams’ biography, and ‘nuff respect to the FF’s, BUT: history since the constitution is a history of incremental reforms to make the election of the president gradually more and more democratic. Putting some checks on the “states decide the process” is next on the list, and the whole state-centric nature of the game ought to be revisited soon thereafter. Meanwhile, the GOP winner-take-all primaries (Where a 51-49% victory in a given state is equivalent to a 80-20% victory) are nothing to brag about, if you ask me.


    Quite true. The only caveat I can think of is that those who have said “X will never change” have often been proven dramatically wrong. Still, I wish I could believe, as Alex does, that “nomination system . . . will be changed after this fiasco.” I fear that it will take a few more catastrophic election cycles.

  12. alex    Tue Mar 18, 11:59 PM #  

    Squat: people have been complaining, but since so far we haven’t had a fiasco of this magnitude, it was all academic. This is not. You’ll see lawsuits soon and that’s just for starters.

    BTW, I don’t see how keeping the current system benefits anybody as far as raising and spending money. I guarantee you the papers, radio stations, etc; would rather McCain and Romney were fighting it still like Hilary and Obama are, and not having to wait until July for additional revenue.

  13. Adam    Wed Mar 19, 10:23 AM #  

    Despite all the problems of the primary system that we bring up every four years, the fact remains that the system is so convoluted precisely to address these problems. Don’t believe me? Then try to think of a solution that’s significantly different. If we had held every primary on the same day, there’s no way that a relatively unknown contender like Obama could have beaten a pseudo-incumbent like Clinton. He had to rely on each state’s win to boost him in the next states, and that is how his campaign has been organized. Just look at the polling as the primaries approach and you will see what I mean. Should each state be a winner-take-all situation like the republicans? Tell me a solution that works.

  14. alex    Wed Mar 19, 11:22 AM #  


    - Agree on a single voting method: Either caucuses or elections. (Caucuses are dumb, insiderirsh and unreliable. Caucuses are why lesser known candidates don’t stand a chance).

    - Let each state hold primaries whenever they want, without penalties that end up punishing the party and the candidates more than the state.

    This takes away the coronation from New Hampshire, etc. The whole New Hampshire and Indiana represent the country concept is showing to be a myth.

    - Divide delegates proportionately. No winner takes all.

    - Get rid of superdelegates.

    - Get rid of the minimum amount of delegates needed. Whoever gets to the convention with the most delegates is the nominee.

    I don’t see how Obama stands less of a chance in a system like this.

  15. squathole    Wed Mar 19, 11:32 AM #  

    I’m all for changing the primary system. How about eliminating it entirely, and going back to the smoke-filled rooms? With 24/7 media attention, instant access to delegates, and financial disclosure rules in place, a good number of the shenanigans that led to the institution of primaries are eliminated — not all, of course, but would a return to that system really be any worse than the bullshit that goes on now?

    And it sure wouldn’t dominate the national dialog for close to 2 years before each election. Political operatives, like cockroaches, have the decency to do their worst deeds in the dark.

  16. alesh    Wed Mar 19, 02:43 PM #  

    OK, here’s an idea, for the sake of discussion

    no party-based primaries.

    1) Primaries are held at three-day intervals (interval open to debate) in each state, order determined randomly one year before each election cycle.

    2) Getting on the ballot requires signatures of 1/10th of 1% of the registered voters in each state

    3) Add up all the popular votes in all the states, take your top two candidates, and have a big nation-wide run-off.


  17. srcohiba    Wed Mar 19, 03:01 PM #  

    Alesh, the Adams book is fantastic. When you’re done read the Adams/Jefferson Letters.

    When you’re done with those, read McCullough’s 1776 another great read. Those 2 books got me on a revolutionary war fascination. Amazing folks.

    Also suggest; His Majesty George Washington, Isaacson’s Ben Frankling, and Cernow’s Hamilton.

    Should keep you busy for the rest of the summer

  18. nonee moose    Wed Mar 19, 03:52 PM #  

    There’s a point being missed among the many good ones made here.

    The notion of a couple of smaller states going first contributes to the overall democratic process. It allows “smaller”, but perhaps no less worthy, candidates to focus their limited resources on those first one or two small states, going all in in hopes of winning and gaining momentum and attention, and the spike in fundraising that follows. One need only to look at how well Huckabee did to see how that strategy can work.

    (Not an endorsement of the candidate, but rather kudos to the bang he got for his buck.)

    Caucuses, IMO, are no more inside baseball than a union leader passing out the cheat sheet in an actual primary. In one sense it is the purest form of the process. The only thing is it lacks the formality that some of our germanic-DNA sometimes craves for. I would agree with the proposition that there is less skin in the game with a caucus, long term. And the apportionment of delegates based on that process is much less secure, as well.

    Winner-take-alls are designed to reward early winners, which theoretically keeps the possibility of brokered conventions to a minimum. This year, of course, that hasn’t worked for some, so far. Why? I know this may sound simplistic to some of you, but I think it hasn’t worked because you have two noteworthy “firsts” battling head-to-head.

    And the borg is confused.

  19. alex    Wed Mar 19, 04:16 PM #  

    Alesh: the problem with no party-based primaries (I’m assuming you mean allowing people to vote for parties other than the one they are registered) is that it opens the door to mischief. Suppose Republicans already have a candidate in an incumbent president, what’s to keep Republican voters to vote for the worst Democratic candidate in order to give their guy an easier fight?

    Nonee: or not work. A dark horse like Huckabee emerging out of New Hampshire may get some traction, but most of the time falters.

    Plus under a system that doesn’t have a minimum number of delegates, the fight is open longer. A candidate is free to pursue a Giuliani type of strategy because momentum wouldn’t matter so much.

  20. nonee moose    Thu Mar 20, 09:03 AM #  

    Alex, I don’t think you can measure the success of a campaign strictly in terms of ultimate success or failure. Granted, getting into a race at all should presuppose an intent to win by the candidate, save for the marginal campaigns brought to highlight some issue or another (ie. Tancredo and the like), or the bald-faced vanity campaigns (hello Biden!). But I think some measure of success can be placed in terms of how “honest” an eventual winner was kept on issues, a sharpening of message, if you will. I speak not from the point of view of the ultimate validity of a particular positon on an issue, or of a candidate for that matter, but rather a full and fair debate on issues that matter to a constituency. That makes for the shaping of a platform for the general election, and is a valuable part of the vetting process for the ultimate party nominees.

    Of course, through all of this, the process will be distorted by misrepresentations, misdirections, and in too many cases, outright lies. For those reasons an electorate that is well informed and, IMO, the right amount of skeptical, is an absolute necessity. Without that, then we could all save ourselves the time and money, and vote for who somebody else tells us to vote for, no questions asked.

    BTW, I don’t disagree with the idea that a proportional system of awarding delegates is better. It allows for a more global appeal to take root, within the constraints of the current state-by-state process. But you get too close to a “national primary”, and you sacrifice the advantages which the smaller process affords, namely more microscope time, among others.

  21. Brautigan    Thu Mar 20, 12:31 PM #  

    First of all, the legislation to move the Florida Democratic primary up in violation of the rules was sponsored by, and supported virtually unanimously, by the Democrats in the Florida Legislature. They were repeatedly warned by the DNC not to do this, but they chose to go with the power play in the belief that Howard Dean would eventually capitulate. Blaming this on Dean seems a bit unfair. If he buckles, you know what will happen next time around: every single state will in a race to be first. That results in a defacto single big primary day, and the only way a candidate can compete in that kind of arena is by being the candidate of big, BIG money.

    Secondly, there is no inherent right of the voters to choose a party candidate. That’s just not the system we have. If the “voters” feel disenfranchised, they can form another party, write their own rules, and enter their own representative in the general election.

    Finally, keep in mind that the rules, as they stand, were agreed to by all the candidates in advance. In fact, Clinton’s Campaign Manager Terry McAullife helped write the rules, as did Harold Ickes, who is Clinton’s Communication’s Manager. We never heard nuthin’ from her campaign about voters being “disenfranchised” until she began losing, and desperately needed those delegates. Should we really reward such a desperate, craven attempt to change the rules in the middle of the game?

  22. squathole    Thu Mar 20, 01:05 PM #  

    Brautigan has it exactly right. The Dems went right ahead and defied their party, despite being told there’d be sanctions. In fact, the proposal to move up the date was put forward by the execrable Jeremy Ring, a Broward Dem.

    Talk of “disenfranchisment” is bull hockey. The primary is not a real election, but a beauty contest, a popularity poll. But mostly a fund raiser.

    Furthermore — and watch closely campers! — despite all the wailing over the “record 1.7 million Dems who voted” in the primary, fewer than 50% of registered Dems even bothered. Not even a majority of their own party cared enough at the time. So quite crying.

    And don’t blame me — I voted for Nader.

  23. alex    Thu Mar 20, 03:23 PM #  

    Defiance schmiance. I already acknowledged the Dems supported and voted for it. Let’s suppose they didn’t. It doesn’t pass? Of course it does.

    The republicans only docked half the delegates. Dean had to be macho man and take away the whole slate. Don’t fool yourself into thinking he didn’t do it because “it’s all academic anyway, we’ll have one candidate defined by Super Tuesday”. He does not want this fiasco and if he does, he shouldn’t be at the head of the DNC. (Not having the clout to reign in unruly Dems is another reason).

    Nonee: I agree with you in terms of the larger picture of examining issues, etc, that non-viable candidates bring to the table. I also think a primary is a bad forum for this (as I think you are alluding to as well). Let’s take Nader, on whom our good Squathole keeps reminding us he wasted his vote: The guy has a very valid platform but he only airs it out every four years. If we had another forum or he deigned run for Congress or start a PAC or something he could actually attain, then he’ll get more traction instead of looking like a vanity driven spoilsport.

  24. nonee moose    Thu Mar 20, 03:38 PM #  

    There’s a thousand ways to skin a cat. Nader’s problem is that his own militance in favor of his issues prevents him from playing in the real sandbox with the rest of us. In his defense, small campaigns make for small attention, so he gets infinitely more spotlight, whetever the good it does, by running for president. Still, somebody has him convinced that as the lone voice screaming in the wilderness, something other than squirrels will give more than a passing glance at his, ahem, acorns.

    Squat’s just making a statement: Since it’s all BS anyway, better to vote for the guy with the clip-on tie. Or something like that.

  25. squathole    Thu Mar 20, 05:34 PM #  

    Nader’s utility as a candidate has been completely wrung out, and his continued presence in that role renders him an embarrassing distraction. Okay? He had something to say in 2000, nothing worthwhile in 04, and less than nothing in 08.

    The point isn’t that all the Dems voting against the change in date could have prevented it — they couldn’t. We can count. The point is, by NOT voting against it, with only one guy — Gelber — imploring the Lege (and getting mocked) not to do it, they inspired precisely the contempt the DNC now shows them. They didn’t even try. In effect they mooned a madman, Howard Dean, who irrational, punitive response they practically begged for.

    What a collage of clowns. What a clusterfuck. What a way to make yourself a national laughingstock.

    (But don’t blame me, etc.)