A Special Message from Karen L. Thurman

Friday, January 18, 2008

Dear Florida Democrat,

Florida is in the driver's seat. Despite what the Washington skeptics and pre-programmed pundits predicted, the nation's eyes are turning to our January 29th Presidential Primary. It is important to vote in this election.

There's been a lot of fuss about delegates, but it's time to forget all that and just vote. The nationally respected RealClearPolitics website noted today that the Florida Democratic Primary will "include all the candidates on the ballot, and the entire media universe will be watching the outcome, guaranteeing the Sunshine State a big impact on the presidential race as it hurtles toward a critical moment the following week on Tsunami Tuesday."

Primary Day is not for another 11 days, but Florida Democrats are already voting in strong numbers. More than 200,000 have requested to vote by mail (absentee). Are you one of them? If not, there's still time to sign up.

Click here to request your absentee ballot so you can vote by mail.

You can also choose to vote early in person. In the first week of early voting, several thousand more Democrats than Republicans went to the polls. Let's keep that up! The Florida Democratic Party has a nifty webpage that will help you find your location: www.fladems.com/vote.

Make no mistake, Florida Democrats will be heard on January 29th. The energy and momentum is on the Democratic Party's side nationwide, and Florida is no different. Thousands upon thousands of Florida Democrats are heading to the polls to make their voice heard in the final primary in the country before February 5th (the potentially decisive "Tsunami" or "Super Duper" Tuesday when more than 20 states will hold primaries or caucuses).

Click here to learn how to vote by mail or to find your early vote location. Or just go to the polls on January 29th. Make your voice heard, Florida!

Karen L. Thurman
Congresswoman Karen L. Thurman
Chair, Florida Democratic Party

P.S. If you're really committed to helping elect a Democratic President in 2008, please visit http://www.fladems.com/createCHANGE08 to learn more about how you can get involved in your spare time.

Frequently Asked Questions

When is the date of Florida’s Democratic Presidential Preference Primary?
January 29, 2008. Interestingly, absentee voters in Florida could be the first in the nation to cast ballots in the entire 2008 primary process. Though the results will not be released until the night of January 29, 2008, Floridians can begin casting absentee ballots on Christmas Day 2007 – nine days before the Iowa caucuses.

Early Primary Calendar (through Feb. 5, 2008)
Dec. 25, 2007 Absentee voting begins in Florida Primary
Dec. 31, 2007 Last day to register to vote in Florida Primary
Jan. 3, 2008 Iowa Caucuses; Absentee voting begins in Arizona Primary
Jan. 5, 2008 Wyoming GOP Caucuses (delegates reduced by 50%); Absentee voting begins in New Mexico Primary
Jan. 7, 2008 Absentee voting begins in California Primary
Jan. 8, 2008 New Hampshire Primary (GOP delegates reduced by 50%)
Jan. 14, 2008 Early voting begins in Florida and Illinois Primaries
Jan. 15, 2008 Michigan Primary (Dem. delegates reduced by 100%, GOP by 50%); Absentee voting begins in Connecticut Primary
Jan. 16, 2008 Early voting begins in Tennessee Primary
Jan. 19, 2008 South Carolina GOP Primary (delegates reduced by 50%); Nevada Caucuses
Jan. 22, 2008 Early voting begins in Utah Primary
Jan. 26, 2008 South Carolina Dem. Primary
Jan. 28, 2008 Early voting begins in Louisiana Primary
Jan. 29, 2008 Florida Primary
Jan. 31, 2008 Early voting begins in Arizona Primary
Feb. 1, 2008 Maine GOP Caucuses
Feb. 5, 2008 More than 20 states vote (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho Dem, Illinois, Kansas Dem, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico Dem, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, possibly more)

Some are calling the Florida Primary a “beauty contest” and saying the results “essentially won’t count.” Should Democrats vote that day?
YES. All Democrats should vote on January 29. Even if the vote is not recognized by the DNC, the choice of Florida voters’ for the Democratic presidential nominee will make waves in the media across the country, just a week before the all-important February 5th – a date some are calling “Tsunami Tuesday” because so many states are holding their primaries that day. Additionally, there are important municipal elections as well as a constitutional property tax amendment on the ballot that day as well. Turnout is crucial.

Who sets the date for Florida’s Primary?
The state-run Presidential Preference Primary date is set by the Florida Legislature. In the 2007 legislative session, the Republican Speaker of the House made it a priority to move up the Primary to January, in violation of both Democratic and Republican National Committee Rules. The Legislature passed the bill, which also included the new requirement that all Florida elections have a paper trail starting in 2008. Governor Charlie Crist signed the bill into law in May.

So what's all the fuss about?
Florida, like every other state, is required to submit a “Delegate Selection Plan for the 2008 Democratic National Convention” to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) explaining how and when the state will pick and apportion its delegates for the presidential nominating process. Florida has 210 delegates. We submitted our Plan earlier this year, and the DNC found it to be in non-compliance with DNC Rules because our state-run Primary date does not comply with the schedule ordered by the DNC’s rules. Therefore, they have issued a 100% reduction of our delegates to the national convention.

Why didn’t the Florida Democratic Party follow the Rules?
Florida’s Primary date, as determined by state law, violates one part of the Rules because it comes before February 5, 2008. The DNC only allows Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina to go before February 5, but Florida law set ours for January 29.  The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) is the only body that can grant final approval of the Delegate Selection Plan, but the Credentials Committee of the Democratic National Convention, which will be formed next year, decides who actually attends the Convention.

The DNC says that Florida could have applied to hold an early primary when it was developing the calendar, but didn’t. Why not?
In Florida, the Legislature is controlled by Republicans. Democrats must prioritize what they work on to achieve the best they can for Floridians. An early primary was never a priority for Democrats, who remain far more concerned with issues such as insurance reform, increased healthcare for children, and improving our schools.

The Rules say you had to try to stop the primary move, but Democrats voted for the law. What gives?
Initially, before a specific date had been decided upon by the Republicans, some Democrats did actively support the idea of moving earlier in the calendar year.  That changed when Speaker Rubio announced he wanted to break the Rules of the Democratic and Republican National Committees. Following this announcement, DNC and Florida Democratic Party staff talked about the possibility that our primary date would move up in violation of Rule 11.A.

Party leaders, Chairwoman Thurman and members of Congress then lobbied Democratic members of the Legislature through a variety of means to prevent the primary from moving earlier than February 5th.  Party leadership and staff spent countless hours discussing our opposition to and the ramifications of a pre-February 5th primary with legislators, former and current Congressional members, DNC members, DNC staff, donors, activists, county leaders, media, legislative staff, Congressional staff, municipal elected officials, constituency leaders, labor leaders and counterparts in other state parties.  In response to the Party’s efforts, Senate Democratic Leaders Geller and Wilson and House Democratic Leaders Gelber and Cusack introduced amendments to CS/HB 537 to hold the Presidential Preference Primary on the first Tuesday in February, instead of January 29th. These were both defeated by the overwhelming Republican majority in each house.

The primary bill, which at this point had been rolled into a larger legislation train, went to a vote in both houses. It passed almost unanimously. The final bill contained a whole host of elections legislation, much of which Democrats did not support. However, in legislative bodies, the majority party can shove bad omnibus legislation down the minority’s throats by attaching a couple of things that made the whole bill very difficult, if not impossible, to vote against. This is what the Republicans did in Florida, including a vital provision to require a paper trail for Florida elections. There was no way that any Florida Democratic Party official or Democratic legislative leader could ask our Democratic members, especially those in the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, to vote against a paper trail for our elections. It would have been embarrassing, futile, and, moreover, against Democratic principles.

Who cares about the paper trail?
Floridians do. Our state has had far too many election controversies. A verifiable paper trail for elections is something Democrats have fought for since the election debacle of 2000. It is a groundbreaking change in a state that has no standardized voting and a long record of disastrous elections. In fact, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) continues to investigate Florida’s District 13 Congressional election in which touch-screen voting machines lost 18,000 ballots in the most Democratic part of the district - putting a Republican in Congress by less than 400 votes, instead of an accomplished Democratic woman who worked her way from bank teller to bank president before running for Congress.

Why can’t you just change the primary date?
Unfortunately, Florida Democrats are outnumbered almost 2 to 1 in the Legislature. They are an extremely hard-working and committed group, but to change a law that the Speaker of the House has made a priority is nearly impossible.

Some Florida Democrats are using the word ‘disenfranchisement.’ What do they mean by that? How exactly would a caucus disenfranchise voters? Isn’t that too strong a word?
Florida Democrats are extremely concerned about the potential for disenfranchisement, which is the term used to refer to the act of inhibiting the right to vote. For minorities and women in particular, it has historical significance because those groups were often told they could not vote, either directly or by tying certain criteria to the right to vote, such as a poll tax or a literacy test. Modern-day disenfranchisement includes action such as a tactic called “caging,” which is the illegal use of mailing lists to cut voters from the rolls so when they show up on Election Day, they cannot vote. The Republican Party of Florida and the 2004 Bush-Cheney Campaign are currently being investigated based on evidence that emerged recently showing that they conducted caging in Duval County in 2004 to block Democrats from voting.

Not all caucuses disenfranchise voters. There are ways to hold an inclusive, open caucus. However, this costs money – a LOT of money. We estimated it would cost $7-8 million to hold an inclusive process here (the Primary costs the state $18 million). One suggested caucus would have allowed only 120,000 people to vote at 150 sites, even though a normal Florida primary has upwards of a million Democrats and 6,700 polling sites. Because of the size of this state, there is no way to equitably distribute 150 sites. Many Democratic voters live in urban areas and do not have personal transportation. Or some live in rural counties and would have to drive for hours to get to a site. Those are just some of the problems that would effectively disenfranchise voters.

What about the property tax reform constitutional amendment the Republicans are pushing?
In addition to the presidential primary vote, the Republican-controlled Legislature scheduled a ballot question on a constitutional amendment that will force drastic cuts in 2008-09 to local budgets that are already being cut in the upcoming budget. The amendment stands to slash local services like libraries and community centers and cut literally thousands of jobs at the municipal level – including firefighters, police, teachers, and others. While the Party does not generally take official positions on ballot initiatives, it encourages all voters to take a careful and serious look at the impact the cuts will have on their localities before they vote on this initiative.

And the municipal elections?
On January 29, the ballot will also include numerous municipal elections. While Florida Democrats did better in 2006, picking up two Congressional seats – would have been a third were it not for 18,000 missing votes in District 13 – electing the first Democratic Cabinet member since 1998, taking back eight Republican-held House seats, and winning the Hispanic vote for the first time since 1976, we still have a long way to go to take back the majority here. We have worked hard to build our bench, but Republicans will turnout in big numbers on January 29th, even though they have a weak slate of Presidential candidates. Florida Democrats must turn out in full force to vote on January 29th so we can continue to elect strong and responsible elected officials at the municipal level.

What about the Four-State Pledge? Does this mean the presidential candidates are not coming to the state convention?
Many people are asking about the so-called “Four State Pledge” – the effort by the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to maintain their privileged positions of influence in the nominating process. Also, the four early states informed the Florida Democratic Party that they would not allow the Presidential candidates to campaign in Florida even if we held an alternative process. We obviously don’t support this, but it is the hand we have been dealt. (Read three different versions of the infamous “Four State Pledge”) In reality, because of the hyper-importance of Iowa and New Hampshire in the 2008 Democratic race, our candidates likely would not have been able to spend much time anywhere else other than for fundraising. Rest assured, we’ll see the Democratic nominee – the next President of the United States of America – early and often during the general election.

What about the delegate selection process? Why still go through with the process if the DNC isn’t giving Florida any delegates?
Although the DNC has said it will not recognize delegates from Florida, the Party plans to appeal to the eventual Democratic nominee for President to be seated at the Convention. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Chair of the 2008 National Convention, and DNC Chairman Howard Dean both confirmed that this does not minimize the importance and impact of the vote on January 29th. With this in mind, the Party will continue the delegate selection process to elect the actual delegates to the Democratic National Convention and will use the results of the January 29th Presidential Preference Primary to determine the apportionment of those delegates.

Why didn’t the DNC assign hotel rooms to Florida?
We technically have no delegates at this time. However, when the nominee overrules the DNC and restores our delegation, we will have some of the 17,000 hotel rooms assigned to us.

Can a presidential candidate remove their name from the ballot in Florida?
Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Thurman, Senator Geller and Representative Gelber submitted to Florida’s Secretary of State the names of our Party’s presidential candidates for placement on the January 29, 2008 Democratic Presidential Preference Primary ballot. State law allows candidates who wish to withdraw from the Florida primary to do so by filing an affidavit stating that he or she is not a candidate for President of the United States of America. In other words: to get off the ballot in Florida, a candidate has to swear that he or she isn’t running for President.

What is going on with the lawsuits?
The one lawsuit filed against the Florida Democratic Party has been thrown out. The Party is not involved in any other lawsuit.