- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

Florida is still smarting from its disputed “hanging chad” presidential election, and a proposal for a “do-over” Democratic primary vote means the state might once again face the center of a political storm.

Some state political analysts fear that the mostly write-in primary, proposed in an “urgent” memo drafted this week by the Florida Democratic Party, may again showcase voting ineptitude, dividing the party and drawing controversy to a state that already has seen its fair share.

“It won’t be hanging chads, but there will be a lot of hanging anger about what comes out of Florida” in the case of a write-in vote, said longtime Florida political strategist Adam Goodman of the Victory Group.

“All of this has the drama of ‘why Florida again?’ There is incredible concern here,” he said. “Despite the fact that we would have to change Florida law to have this kind of ballot, putting the Legislature in the middle, this is unprecedented.”

Seeking to resolve a dispute that may hold the Democratic presidential nomination in the balance, state party leaders suggested in an “urgent” memo to Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, as well as the state’s U.S. lawmakers and national party leaders, that Florida redo its primary by write-in ballot.

They also suggested 50 walk-in centers for voters, with the whole election monitored by an independent and appointed commission to ensure fairness. Ballots would be due by June 3, two days after the Puerto Rico caucuses and in time to sort out any issues well before the party holds its national convention in August.

“Fingers have been pointed in every direction, but how we arrived at this breaking point is irrelevant,” wrote Democratic Party Chairman Karen Thurman, who held a press conference yesterday to muster support for a write-in election. “The stark reality is that all Democrats lose if this is not resolved immediately.”

Mrs. Thurman cited the results of a party-commissioned poll that found 59 percent of Florida Democrats supported a revote. The survey also found that 63 percent of primary-voting Democrats said they would stick with the eventual nominee if Florida votes were not counted — a number she cited as too small.

“No action is truly a solution if it leaves Florida voters feeling that they were excluded from the most exciting nominating contest in history,” she wrote. “Because of the unprecedented nature of the national race, a situation that previously was a relatively minor, party-insider issue, now has the potential to result in irreparable damage for years to come.”

Florida Democrats voted in their party’s primary on Jan. 29, as scheduled by the state Legislature but in violation of Democratic National Committee rules. The DNC responded by stripping the state of its delegates and asking that the candidates not campaign there — a request Mrs. Clinton and others honored. Mrs. Clinton won the primary, reflecting her greater name recognition and standing in national polls at the time.

Reactions to the proposed write-in primary have been solidly negative, said political observers, who noted that the grass-roots groundswell has not come close to the national attention for the idea.

“I haven’t talked to a single person who is in favor of it,” said Wayne Garcia, a Tampa-based former political consultant who serves as the political editor of Creative Loafing, an alternative weekly magazine. “It’s like dead on arrival.”

“The media is overwhelmingly against it. The congressional delegation is against it. In a way, it’s sort of this theater of the absurd,” Mr. Garcia said. “The feeling I get is, ‘Oh, God. Here we go again. It’s 2000 all over again.’ ”

The problem, he said, is that voters are polarized. Those who support Mrs. Clinton “want to keep their presumptive vote,” he said.

“The Obama people don’t want to do it again because he’s no better off in the polls today than he was when they first voted. It’s the classic Mexican standoff.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, a Florida Democrat who backs Mrs. Clinton, told CNN that Oregon needed 10 years to perfect its mail-in election system.

“In Florida, where we’ve been struggling for the last eight years to restore voters’ confidence that when they go to the polls their vote counts, you know, the voters’ nerves there are very raw. And having [to] risk another fiasco would really not be a good idea,” she said yesterday on “The Situation Room” program.

Mr. Goodman said he heard a lot of anger from those who already voted, and that Floridians have no experience with mail-in votes.

“There is absolutely going to be duplications, wrong addresses, and a bias against people who are transient or low-income, who might not be at one place all the time,” he added.

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