The editor’s opinion from Marketplace, Northeast Wisconsin’s business magazine. (Obligatory disclaimer: Most hyperlinks go to outside sites, and we’re not responsible for their content. And like fresh watermelon, peaches, pineapple, grapefruit, tomatoes and sweet corn, hyperlinks can go bad after a while.)

April 11, 2008

Michigan and Florida (not a football game)

Since this blog just recently started, I’m behind on a few topics, including almost the entire Democratic presidential nomination race, which, at the moment, is working about as well as Republican nominee John McCain could have hoped.

One issue has to do with the Democratic primaries in Florida and Michigan. Because those states decided to move their primaries farther up in the Democratic schedule without the permission of the national party, the national party stripped those states of their delegates to the national convention. (Which, in the case of Florida, is the fault of, according to Florida Democrats, Republicans, of course.) Hillary Clinton won both primaries, so it’s not shocking that she was trying to get the national Democrats to allow her share of the 128 Michigan delegates and 185 Florida delegates to count toward her total. Heading into Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary, Clinton has somewhere between 1,042 and 1,502 delegates, and Obama has somewhere between 1,201½ and 1,631½ of the 2,025 delegates needed for the Democratic nomination, depending on who’s doing the counting.

On the one hand, as we all found out during and after Election Day 2000, the presidential election is not one election, it’s 50 state elections (plus the District of Columbia), which is how the Florida Supreme Court almost got to decide a presidential election. The presidential primary elections or caucuses, although they are run by the states, are created by the parties, and, depending on where you are, the states or the parties decide the rules.

How the Dems are handling Michigan and Florida strikes me as fundamentally wrong, not to mention, in Florida’s case, an excellent way to lose a hugely important state’s electoral votes. (I can hear the deep-voiced narrator on, say, Fox 4 in Fort Myers now: “Barack Obama didn’t want Florida’s votes to count. Should Barack Obama count on your support on Election Day?”) Even though Wisconsin’s own “Fighting Bob” La Follette* was wrong on a lot of issues, he was right about allowing actual voters to decide party nominees, instead of party insiders who will manipulate their rules to support their candidates. And the latter is exactly what the Democrats are doing with Michigan and Florida. (Which, if you think about it, is the height of irony; even though La Follette was a Republican, today’s Democratic Party is what La Follette’s wing of the GOP was in his day.)

The counterargument is the old those-are-the-rules-and-everyone-knew-about-them argument, and/or the it’s-our-party-and-we-make-the-rules argument, which are really arguments from power rather than arguments based on logic. (Well, there’s also the incompetence argument, which spikes the Ironicometer when you consider the Palm Beach County, Fla., voters who went on national TV to admit that they couldn't figure out their butterfly ballots.) Our political system is based on the vote, and it seems to me that the way to encourage voting without voter fraud is to make the voter’s vote mean something — to give the voter, not the party insider, the voice as to whom a party’s choice for president should be.

* Personal disclosure: I graduated from La Follette High School in Madison, whose athletes were called “Lancers,” not “Fighting Bobs” or even “Fighting Lancers.”

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