Saturday, August 25, 2007

Florida's defense: the problems with holding caucuses

Representatives of the Florida Democratic Party are here to plead their case before the RBC, begging forgiveness for not being able to stop the state legislation that changed the date of the primary to January 29, and asking permission to be granted an official waiver from the calendar rule. If the RBC finds the Florida plan in non-compliance, the Florida state party will be forced to hold caucuses sometime after the opening of the window (February 5). The FL state party is arguing that it would be really hard to pull together caucuses - they have to find caucus locations, staff the caucus locations, educate Democratic voters about the caucus process, and print ballots (and we know how good those Floridians are at printing ballots...) If the state party has to hold caucuses, turnout will be much lower than it would in the state run primary, and voters will be confused. A similar situation occurred in Arizona in 2000, when John McCain was running for president and the Republicans in the state helped move the date of the primary to February 2, in the hopes of giving their homestate senator a momentum boost. But February 2 was before the opening of the DNC window, and so the RBC told the AZ Democratic party that they had to hold their own contest (which was a party-run primary) at a later date. They did, and turnout was much lower than any state-run primary, even though Arizona Democrats introduced the use of Internet voting. Michael Alvarez and Jonathan Nagler have a great paper that goes over some of the issues involved in the 2000 Arizona primary (with a specific focus on the effects of Internet voting)

Florida has some ballot issues that are supposed to be on the Jan. 29 primary ballot, and low turnout could effect those measures.

The Florida Dem Party makes a strong argument that the DNC should not be disenfranchising Florida voters by boycotting the Jan. 29 primary and forcing a caucus at a later date. But at the same time, there has to be a point at which the leapfrogging to the front of the calendar stops.

Congressional influence: while this a DNC committee meeting, and Congress has no real role in the presidential nominating process (it is run by the national political parties and the state legislatures), the influence of Congress can be seen in the room. Staffers are in the audience from Senator Reid's office (he represents Nevada - one of the new "early" states, and Reid very much wants to protect the new importance of Nevada's place in the calendar) and Senator Levin's office (from Michigan - another state that wants to move early, like Florida).

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