Splitting Votes

Splitting Votes

When Democratic National Committee officials gathered in Washington, D.C. Saturday to deliberate the question of how to handle the delegations from Florida and Michigan, emotions were raw from start to finish.

The day started with hundreds of supporters, mostly Sen. Hillary Clinton’s, chanting outside the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel and carrying signs with such messages as “Count My Vote or Count Me Out.” Throughout the session, there were frequent outbursts by demonstrators who had obtained tickets online to attend the meeting. After the vote, Clinton supporters were visibly upset, some crying that the committee’s decision had virtually sealed a November victory for the Republican nominee John McCain.

Michigan and Florida faced penalties for holding early primaries, in direct violation of party rules.

Following testimony from representatives for both Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, the rules committee met privately for close to three hours and then voted publicly. The committee voted 27 in favor, with one abstention by one of its members who is from Florida, to seat the state’s entire delegation and allow each delegate only a half vote. On Michigan, the committee voted 19 to 8 to give 69 delegates to Clinton and 59 to Obama. The magic number now required to reach the nomination is 2,118. Clinton currently has 1,914 delegates, while Obama has 2,068.

“This decision was not made easily or lightly, but after listening to oral arguments made by the complainants, state parties, and both presidential campaigns, we believe this to be the most fair and equitable solution allowed within the rules,” says co-chair Alexis Herman, who served as labor secretary under Bill Clinton. “The committee arrived at its decision with three basic principles in mind: One, that we must be fair to the voters in both states. Two, that we must be fair to both campaigns who abided by the rules in good faith, and three, that we must be fair to the 48 states that followed the rules.”

The Republican Party has stripped half the delegates from New Hampshire, Florida, South Carolina, Michigan, and Wyoming because those states scheduled early primaries and caucuses on dates that were not originally agreed upon.

Being first in the nation to vote in presidential primaries is a treasured honor that until this year was enjoyed only by Iowa and New Hampshire. But the DNC changed its rules for this year’s election to allow South Carolina and Nevada to hold their primaries before Super Tuesday to add geographic and racial diversity to the process.

“It was great political theater and fascinating to see a process that usually takes place behind doors in the legendary smoke-filled rooms,” says James Taylor, a University of San Francisco political scientist. Voters from Florida were feeling particularly sensitive because many believe they were disenfranchised during the 2000 presidential contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Clinton supporters also felt that the committee’s decision on Michigan unfairly penalized their candidate. In that state, where Clinton won 55% of the vote, Obama and other Democratic nominees still in the race voluntarily