The Hypocrisy of Democracy: Democrats “Stood Up” By The Democratic National Committee At Florida Primaries

29 Jan

On January 29th, 2008 I will vote even if my vote does not count. Why? I am doing it to feel what people around the world who live in mediocre democracies feel like when their vote does not count.  Such limited democracies hold elections, but disenfranchise voters in many ways like: not securing voting booths from intimidation or violence, destroying ballots, fixing elections, buying people’s votes, and/or only offering one candidate, because all others have been intimidated or eliminated.    

 

I mean, what is more important in a democracy, the electorate or an organization?

 

Floridians should be rewarded for using the democratic system to change electoral problems in their state. Instead, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) opted to punish states that changed their primary elections, such as Michigan and Florida, by dismissing their votes.  

 

The Florida law, approved by Floridians and signed by Governor Charlie Crist on May 21, 2007, established an early presidential primary on January 29th, 2008.  This reform led the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to boycott the Florida primaries, thereby preventing candidates from campaigning and not counting the votes of Florida delegates at the Democratic Convention. In other words, the votes of Florida Democrats will not count. 

 

This is ironic because in the 2000 presidential elections, Democrats were scrounging for 500 votes to beat current President George W. Bush.  That election that was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, and it disenfranchised Florida voters. So Florida voters, who agonized over the 2000 presidential elections, are again IGNORED. 

 

Why was the primary date changed in Florida?

 chadhang1.jpg              2000-florida-recount01b-1.jpg

 

The crazy 2000 presidential elections, experienced by Floridians and by the entire United States, led to a number of electoral reforms. So rather than becoming disillusioned and disconnected from the electoral process, Florida voters became more engaged in improving an electoral system that was the butt of national jokes. Florida officials and the electorate voted to change electoral machines from those that punched paper ballots to computerized systems that will have a paper trail. The state also created an early voting process, so voters not only have absentee balloting at their disposal, but they can also vote early for almost a week before the actual Election Day takes place. This reform was done to accommodate people that have 9-5 jobs, and/or are unable to vote on the actual election date. Floridian voters also agreed to change the date of the electoral primary to increase the relevance of their vote in national politics. This way Floridians could have an increased effect on the momentum of primary elections.

 

A country that has strong democratic institutions allows its citizens to use the political system to solve problems without massive protest or violence. Floridians have showed that they can change the electoral process by using the present political system, and they should be rewarded for their enthusiasm.  The electorate should not be punished by the DNC.

 

What Is the DNC and Why Boycott the Florida and Michigan Primaries?

 

The Democratic National Committee is the organization that according to their website “plans the Party’s quadrennial presidential nominating convention; promotes the election of Party candidates with both technical and financial support; and works with national, state, and local party organizations, elected officials, candidates, and constituencies to respond to the needs and views of the Democratic electorate and the nation” (http://www.democrats.org/a/party/aboutDNC.html). The DNC is chaired by Gov. Howard Dean and it also has a Rules Committee that on August 2007 decided to boycott Florida and Michigan’s push for early primaries.  The 30-committee members did not like being bypassed by the Florida and Michigan electorates, arguing that the “leapfrogging” of  “rogue” states did not follow organizational rules.

In the DNC’s defense, if all states moved up their primary elections, then it would cut the campaigning process.  So voters would not have time to become acquainted with candidates, and the candidates and the party would loose out in opportunities to raise political campaign funds in each state. Many in the DNC have argued that the primary process should be reformed to allow more states to have more representation.

Though the DNC deals with the logistics of candidate selection and should reform the primary system in cooperation with its Republican counterparts, is punishing voters in a democracy necessary? In a democracy, the DNC, which is just an organization, should not be more powerful than an electorate.

 

What are the Costs of the Boycott?

 

If the Democratic National Committee is in the business of convincing people to vote and claims to represent the interests of the American People, by disenfranchising voters it made a public relations blunder. Republicans can always use this against the DNC, its candidates, and voters will remember. Because of the boycott, angry Democrats have opted to give campaign donations to their candidate of choice, rather than to the DNC.

 

Because of the boycott candidates are unable to raise funds in Florida without being hypocrites. Why should supporters give money to candidates if their vote does not count? Remember “no taxation without representation?” More importantly, candidates lose the opportunity to present themselves and sell their agenda in Florida– a key state that has a diverse population and 27 delegates.

 

Even in the past days Hillary Clinton has told voters that she will visit South Florida after the primary to thank voters and hear their needs. She has pleaded to make Florida delegate votes count at the convention, but this is because polls show that she is winning by 50%.  Barack Obama opposes lifting the boycott because he did not campaign in Florida after the DNC’s decision, and if he were to agree to count the votes of Florida and Michigan delegates, it is most likely that he would lose. Democrats lost the opportunity to convince voters about their views on the economy and the war in Iraq, whereas Republicans have used this opportunity to debate and persuade voters in both states possibly winning the attention of independents.

 

For voters the cost of the boycott is the opportunity of meeting candidates, hearing debates, and of taking part in the selection of candidates closest to their views, so at least they can feel like they have a stake in the political system. Many people I spoke to will not vote because they know that their vote will not count. If we follow this reasoning what is the point of having a democracy? Why not have an authoritarian system that will choose everything for us? I should also add that primary elections are elections for delegates that will vote on behalf of the Floridian population, this is not even a direct vote!  

 

Finally, not counting votes in a country like the United States that brags about the value of democratic politics all over the world is a hypocritical move by U.S. politicians. If people are disenfranchised in this country what can people in countries in the midst of political turmoil like Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, and Kenya hope for? 

 

Though I can say with a high degree of certainty that I will not be violently intimidated by armed groups like in some places in Colombia, my country of origin, as a U.S. naturalized citizen I can hope that the political system will register my vote and that the media will take notice.  Even if my vote does not count, I hope that the next election will improve politics, just as Florida electoral politics have improved eight years since the fiasco of November 2000.

 

To conclude if people want to vote, their vote should count. This is especially true if people want to vote for a candidate that they believe will: improve an economy, create greater peace, lead a developed and rich country, and that will not leave hundreds of people stranded for days, and waiting for water and food right after a Level 5 hurricane floods and destroys their city.

The Flood Aftermath left by Hurricane Katrina August/September 2005 

[rockyou id=100595300&w=650&h=325]

 All Pictures courtesy of bbc.com

 Update

It is optimistic to see that voter turnout in Florida primaries broke records.  3.848 million people voted, which is a 37% voter turnout. This is an increase, because the 2004 Florida primaries only garnered 2.569 million votes and 26.3% voter turnout.  Democrats got 1,719,334 million votes vs. Republican 1,912,652 votes. Considering that democrat votes did not count this is a pretty good turnout. Hillary Clinton got 854,089 (49.7%) votes compared to Obama’s 567,356 (33%).  Hillary Clinton also received more votes than Sen. John McCain, who received 689,300 votes (36%). However, this result is illusive for Sen. Clinton, because this primary was not a contested primary due to the boycott. 

 

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