Saturday, May 31, 2008

DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee Decisions

Tonight the Democratic Party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee made its decisions regarding the seating of Florida and Michigan delegates at the party’s convention in August.

The Florida delegation will be seated at full strength, but each delegate will have only half a vote. That represents a turnaround from the committee’s original decision to impose 100% exclusion, but is consistent with the committee’s stated rule that disobeying the rules will result in a reduction of voting strength to 50%. The Clinton camp had, of course, lobbied for a complete restoration of the Florida delegates with one vote per delegate while the Obama campaign had called for a 50-50 split. The committee’s vote seemed to split the difference and although the Clinton people opposed the decision, it was obvious they weren’t going to fight about it. There was first a motion to restore the Florida delegation to full strength, which failed, 15-12. The second vote was for the compromise and the many Clinton supporters on the committee voted for it, passing it unanimously. A peaceful resolution and unity seemed close at hand.

Michigan was another story entirely. A GOP-dominated state legislature had voted to schedule that state’s primary between those of Iowa and New Hampshire (as had the GOP-controlled Florida legislature). As punishment (and to ward off other states that also wanted to reschedule their primaries similarly), the Rules & Bylaws Committee imposed the 100% penalty on Michigan (as it had on Florida). Both states were told that their primaries would not count, the crucial difference between the two being that while neither Clinton nor Obama appeared on the Florida ballot, Clinton (who publicly stated at the time that the vote would not count) did leave her name on the Michigan ballot while Obama did not. Since Michigan went ahead with the primary regardless, all candidates whose names were not on the ballot were represented (if that’s the word for it) by the category “Undecided”. Adding to the confusion, Michigan has a law whereby write-in votes are not counted unless explicitly authorized by the candidate in question prior to the vote.

As it happens, Clinton won a majority of the (then) non-binding vote, while Undecided got about 40% of the vote. Approximately 30,000 write-in votes were cast, but for the reasons already mentioned, they were not counted.

All the candidates agreed at the time the penalties were imposed that the Florida and Michigan primaries would not count. Indeed, Harold Ickes and Terry McCaulliff were among the committee members who voted to exclude the results of both primaries. However, as Henry Adams once observed, “the vast majority of men choose interest when deciding morals,” a principle that certainly seems to apply to this controversy. Once Hillary Clinton’s campaign found the delegate requirement for the nomination slipping out of reach, they suddenly became ardent opponents of the “disenfranchisement” of Florida and Michigan voters, something the candidate herself recently compared to the situation in Zimbabwe and the 2000 fiasco in Florida.

In any event, the Rules and Bylaws Committee was presented with 3 proposals for resolution of the Michigan situation:

1. The Clinton campaign argued for complete restoration of the Michigan delegation with one vote per delegate.

2. The Obama campaign sought a 50-50 split with one vote per delegate.

3. The Michigan Democratic Party tried to split the difference, diviining an allocation of delegates based on a combination of the percentages of the actual votes plus the write-ins and undecided votes, based on the assumption that the latter two would have been for Obama had he left his name on the ballot.

The Clinton campaign objected to options 2 & 3 on the principle that an arbitrary split would violate the principle of reflection; i.e., that the apportionment of delegates would not mirror the relative percentages of the actual votes cast. The Obama campaign countered that the Michigan primary was a seriously flawed process; as such, there was no basis for the claim that the actual vote totals represented the will of the voters, since many who might have voted probably refrained after learning that the primary wouldn’t count, and since there’s no way of knowing how many write-ins and undecided votes would have been for Obama (or John Edwards, who also was not on the ballot).

In the end, the committee voted to restore the full complement of Michigan delegates, but apportioned according to option 3, and with half a vote per delegate. The vote was 19-8 in favor. Harold Ickes made an impassioned speech afterwards in which he decried what he termed the “hijacking” of the process, the loss of 4 delegates to Obama, and informed the committee that Hillary Clinton had authorized him to take the issue to the Credentials Committee. And that, folks, means they’ll fight on to the convention in August, general election be damned. Clinton supporters in the gallery began chanting “Denver, Denver, Denver.” We may be headed for a long, hot summer.

Here’s what puzzles me: Why did the Clinton campaign acquiesce in the Florida decision but declare holy war over Michigan? Both states are delegate-rich. The Rules Committee’s position with respect to the Clinton campaign’s arguments in re both state primaries was that, as Donna Brazile put it memorably, “my momma told me you don’t change the rules after the game is played.” So what’s the distinction between the two outcomes as far as the Clinton campaign is concerned? Is there a distinction between the two processes, or is it a matter of sequence—the second determining conclusively that Hillary Clinton’s campaign is over?

Please feel free to educate me on this in the Comments section.

1 comment:

Michael said...
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