Setting the Primary
The effort to establish an early Florida primary traces back to the first part of 2006, when then incoming House Speaker Marco Rubio (R-Miami) set out the goal of moving the state's primary up to seven days after the New Hampshire primary.1 Idea #37 of the House Republicans' "100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future" states, "Move Florida’s Presidential primary up to a time that would highlight Florida’s concerns and issues and would ensure our national influence in choosing a Presidential candidate." On Jan. 23, 2007 Rep. David Rivera (R-Miami) filed HB 537, a bill to move the presidential primary to the first Tuesday in February or the first Tuesday immediately following the New Hampshire presidential preference primary, whichever occurs first. The final bill, which weighed in at 80 pages, covered a range of topics ranging from third party voter registration to "requiring all voting to be by marksense ballot" (optical scan machines). The bill also dropped the connection to the date of New Hampshire's primary and set the defined date of the last Tuesday in January. The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 37-2 on April 27 and the House put up a vote of 118-0 on May 3. On May 21, 2007 Gov. Charlie Crist (R) signed a bill to move the date of state's presidential primary to from the second Tuesday in March to the last Tuesday in January. >
1. See Lesley Clark and Mary Ellen Klas. "Earlier primary touted as aid to Florida." Miami Herald, March 31, 2006.
Florida's move to the earlier date violates the national parties' rules, and both the DNC and the RNC announced penalties:
Republicans: In August 2007 the RPOF Executive Board adopted the party's 2008 delegate selection rules as well as language that gives its chairman "the ability to address any decision that the Convention might undertake that is converse to this position." >On October 22, 2007 the RNC Executive Committee voted to penalize Florida and four other states by half their delegates to the the Republican National Convention for starting their delegate selection in advance of Feb. 5, 2008; those penalties are reflected in the Call to the Convention the RNC issued on November 9, 2007.
Democrats: State Democrats, facing a reduction in the number of pledged delegates and alternates by 50 percent, considered various options, such as holding caucuses or a convention on Feb. 5, 2008 or later. A proposed vote by mail primary would have cost from $7 to 8 million. On June 10, 2007 the State Executive Committee voted unanimously to use the state-run January 29 primary even at risk of a penalty. > Some time later the DNC offered to put up $866,000 help fund a caucus with 120,000 ballots and 150 voting sites. On August 4 the State Executive Committee formally adopted its Delegate Selection and Affirmative Action Plan, setting the date of Florida's Democratic Presidential Preference Primary for January 29, 2008. >
The matter heated up at the August 25 meeting of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee, where representatives of the Florida Democratic Party pleaded that they had done what they could to move the date within the window but were at the mercy of the Republican-controlled legislature. Further, they argued that holding a caucus with just 150 voting sites compared to 6,700 locations for the state-run primary would hurt efforts to build the party in this key state and could affect the outcome of property-tax referendum to be held on January 29. The Rules and Bylaws Committee held firm, found the FDP plan in noncompliance, and voted to penalize Florida Democrats 100 percent of their delegates to the national convention if they did not come up with a plan within 30 days that complies with the timing requirement. "We're going to follow the rules," said RBC member Donna Brazile.
However, Florida Democrats stood firm. On September 23, 2007 Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman announced the party would participate in the January 29 primary. In an open message on the FDP website Thurman wrote, "There will be no other primary. Florida Democrats absolutely must vote on January 29th." Clearly it would create a very awkward situation if Florida's delegates to the convention, to be held August 25-28, 2008 in Denver, CO, are not seated. Conventional wisdom is that despite the DNC penalties, the Florida delegates will eventually be seated. A FAQ on the FDP website notes, "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." >
Additionally, on October 4, 2007, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Congressman Alcee Hastings filed suit against Howard Dean and the DNC in the U.S. District Court Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee seeking "among other things, a judicial declaration concerning whether the disenfranchisement of more than four million Democratic voters in Florida's Presidential primary election on January 29, 2008, violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution, as well as 42 U.S.C. %1983 and Section Two of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C %1973." On December 5 the Court upheld the DNC's right to enforce its primary rules. >In March 2008 there was a flurry of activity on the Democratic side around a possible revote. In a March 10 op-ed in the Washington Post ("Delegates We Need"), Govs. Jon S. Corzine (D-NJ) and Edward G. Rendell (D-PA), both Clinton supporters, argued for a revote in both Florida and Michigan and volunteered to help raise the funds to pay for such elections. The Obama campaign was skeptical; in a March 12 conference call campaign manager David Plouffe expressed "deep concerns" about a mail-in vote, noting that it had taken Oregon ten years to perfect its vote-by-mail system. Additionally the Florida Democratic members of Congress expressed "opposition to a new mail-in election or re-do election of any kind." In this environment, on the evening of March 12, the Florida Democratic Party presented a draft proposal calling for "a combination vote-by-mail and in-person election...but only if Democratic leaders approve the plan." The election was to occur on June 3. In addition to the vote-by-mail component the proposal called for 50 regional election offices. Cost of the election was put at $10-12 million. Florida Democrats solicited reactions to the proposal, received thousands of responses, and concluded, "We spent the weekend reviewing your messages, and while your reasons vary widely, the consensus is clear: Florida doesn't want to vote again."