Monday, January 28, 2008

Voting Rights, FL Edition

The disenfranchisement of voters has historically been a central part of American politics. Poll taxes and literacy tests may be a thing of the past, but the disenfranchisement of ex-convicts, tough voter ID laws and other methods are still being used today.

This year, two whole states with their millions of voters, Michigan and Florida, have been disenfranchised. These states moved up their primaries to January without the consent of the national parties, so the Republicans cut the number of their convention delegates in half, while the Democrats denied them a voice in the convention completely. I don't approve of the Republican response, but at least it gives Republican voters in those two states a say in the nomination process, even if somewhat reduced. The Democratic response, on the other hand, is completely unacceptable.

Have no mistake – I am a Democrat myself. This is not an attack for partisan reasons. I truly do believe that the primaries are just as important as the general election, and every American citizen should have the ability to have his say in the nomination process of the party of his choice. Denying this right is extremely undemocratic and appalling. This is a collective punishment of Floridians and Michiganders who have done nothing wrong. How are they responsible for their leaders' decision to move up the primaries? Even the leaders didn't really do anything wrong. Why do South Carolina and Nevada have more of a right to vote in January than Florida and Michigan? "Tradition", which doesn't even apply in Nevada's case, is the equivalent of "because I said so".

Even more disturbing is the lack of an outcry on this issue. A few lawsuits were brought against the DNC, but they were rejected. Disenfranchisement may be undemocratic and immoral, but in this case, apparently it's perfectly constitutional. The courts couldn't change the decision, but the media and the public should have protested it. Floridians, Michiganders and people from all across the United States should have picketed the DNC's national headquarters as well as their state offices.

Now Hillary Clinton's campaign has said she will support seating the two states' delegates. This is just as undemocratic as the DNC's original decision. Michigan's primary on January 15 did not have any Barack Obama and John Edwards on the ballot, and no Democrat campaigned there, and voters didn't really think their votes matter, so they either didn't vote or didn't necessarily vote as they would have in a "real" primary. Florida's primary will take place on Tuesday, and though all the candidates are on the ballot, there was no Democratic campaign there.

It is too late to save the January primaries of Florida and Michigan. The only way to democratically amend the situation is by holding a second round of voting, with ample time to campaign. Of course, this might mean the nominee will have already been selected by the date of the new primaries.

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