FAQs from the Florida Democratic Party's "Make it Count" site (Sept. 23, 2007)

Frequently Asked Questions 


When is the date of Florida's Democratic Presidential Preference Primary?
January 29, 2008.

The DNC is calling this just a "beauty contest" and saying the results "essentially won't count." Should Democrats vote that day?
YES. All Democrats should vote on January 29. Even if the vote is not recognized by the DNC, the choice of Florida voters' for the Democratic presidential nominee will make waves in the media across the country, just a week before the all-important February 5th - a date some are calling "Tsunami Tuesday" because so many states are holding their primaries that day. Additionally, there are important municipal elections as well as a constitutional property tax amendment on the ballot that day as well. Turnout is CRUCIAL.

Who sets the date for the Primary?
The state-run Presidential Preference Primary date is set by the Florida Legislature. In the 2007 regular legislative session, the Republican Speaker of the House made it a priority to move up the Primary to January, in violation of both Democratic and Republican National Committee Rules. The Legislature passed the bill, which also included the requirement that all Florida elections have a paper trail starting in 2008. Governor Charlie Crist signed the bill into law in May.

So what's all the fuss about?
Florida, like every other state, is required to submit a ‘Delegate Selection Plan for the 2008 Democratic National Convention' to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) explaining how and when the state will pick and apportion its delegates for the presidential nominating process. Florida has 210 delegates. We submitted our Plan earlier this year, and the DNC found it to be in non-compliance with DNC Rules because our Primary date does not comply with the schedule ordered by the DNC's rules. Therefore, they have issued a 100% reduction of our delegates to the national convention.

Why didn't you follow the Rules?
Our Primary date, as determined by state law, violates one part of the Rules because it comes before February 5, 2008. The DNC only allows Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina to go before February 5, but Florida law set ours for January 29.  The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) is the only body that can grant final approval of our Plan.

The DNC says that Florida could have applied to hold an early primary when it was developing the calendar, but didn't. Why not?
In Florida, the Legislature is controlled by Republicans. Democrats must prioritize what they work on to achieve the best they can for Floridians. An early primary was never a priority for Democrats, who were and are more concerned with issues such as insurance reform, healthcare for children, and improving our schools. The first that Florida Democratic legislators heard of the Republicans' plan to move the primary was in November 2006, when Speaker Marco Rubio announced it. That was well past the deadline to apply to the DNC to hold an early primary.

The Rules say you had to try to stop the primary move, but Democrats voted for the law. What gives?
Initially, before a specific date had been decided upon by the Republicans, some Democrats did actively support the idea of moving earlier in the calendar year.  That changed when Rubio announced he wanted to break the Rules of the Democratic and Republican National Committees. Following this announcement, DNC and Florida Democratic Party staff talked about the possibility that our primary date would move up in violation of Rule 11.A.

Party leaders, Chairwoman Thurman and members of Congress then lobbied Democratic members of the Legislature through a variety of means to prevent the primary from moving earlier than February 5th.  Party leadership and staff spent countless hours discussing our opposition to and the ramifications of a pre-February 5th primary with legislators, former and current Congressional members, DNC members, DNC staff, donors, activists, county leaders, media, legislative staff, Congressional staff, municipal elected officials, constituency leaders, labor leaders and counterparts in other state parties.  In response to the Party's efforts, Senate Democratic Leaders Geller and Wilson and House Democratic Leaders Gelber and Cusack introduced amendments to CS/HB 537 to hold the Presidential Preference Primary on the first Tuesday in February, instead of January 29th. These were both defeated by the overwhelming Republican majority in each house.

The primary bill, which at this point had been rolled into a larger legislation train, went to a vote in both houses. It passed almost unanimously. The final bill contained a whole host of elections legislation, much of which Democrats did not support. However, in legislative bodies, the majority party can shove bad omnibus legislation down the minority's throats by attaching a couple of things that made the whole bill very difficult, if not impossible, to vote against. This is what the Republicans did in Florida, including a vital provision to require a paper trail for Florida elections. There was no way that any Florida Democratic Party official or Democratic legislative leader could ask our Democratic members, especially those in the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, to vote against a paper trail for our elections. It would have been embarrassing, futile, and, moreover, against Democratic principles.

Who cares about the paper trail?
Floridians do. Our state has had far too many election controversies. A verifiable paper trail for elections is something Democrats have fought for since the election debacle of 2000. It is a groundbreaking change in a state that has no standardized voting and a long record of disastrous elections. In fact, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) continues to investigate Florida's District 13 Congressional election in which touch-screen voting machines lost 18,000 ballots in the most Democratic part of the district - putting a Republican in Congress by less than 400 votes, instead of an accomplished Democratic woman who worked her way from bank teller to bank president before running for Congress.

Why can't you just change the primary date?
Unfortunately, Florida Democrats are outnumbered almost 2 to 1 in the Legislature. They're an extremely hard-working and committed group, but to change a law that the Speaker of the House has made a priority is nearly impossible.

Why not just do the caucus or a vote-by-mail program?
The Party considered many options to comply with DNC Rules, but none were able to meet the goals of holding an open and fair process, maximizing participation, protecting the right to vote and building the Democratic Party. Additionally, the other solutions would either 1) fail to reach all Democrats; 2) spend money we don’t have or that should be spent on winning elections; and/or 3) confuse voters by taking away from Jan. 29th.

A VBM would cost upwards of $8 million and to conduct caucuses to determine the state’s presidential preference would have been the same. Although we looked at caucus proposals that had a cheaper price tag, those proposals would have disenfranchised core constituencies within our party – seniors and lower income voters – and also limited outreach and education that would have been so desperately needed in every county and every community across the state to minimize confusion.

So the Florida Democratic Party's State Executive Committee voted twice to go with the January 29th primary date on the grounds that any other option would result in the disenfranchisement of Florida Democratic voters and that Florida had already been through too much of this before.

Some Florida Democrats are using the word ‘disenfranchisement.' What do they mean by that? How exactly would a caucus disenfranchise voters? Isn't that too strong a word?
Florida Democrats are extremely concerned about the potential for disenfranchisement, which is the term used to refer to the act of inhibiting the right to vote. For minorities and women in particular, it has historical significance because those groups were often told they could not vote, either directly or by tying certain criteria to the right to vote, such as a poll tax or a literacy test. Modern-day disenfranchisement includes action such as a tactic called "caging," which is the illegal use of mailing lists to cut voters from the rolls so when they show up on Election Day, they cannot vote. The Republican Party of Florida and the 2004 Bush-Cheney Campaign are currently being investigated based on evidence that emerged recently showing that they conducted caging in Duval County in 2004 to block Democrats from voting.

Not all caucuses disenfranchise voters. There are ways to hold an inclusive, open caucus. However, this costs money. We estimated it would cost $7-8 million to hold an inclusive process here. One suggested caucus would have allowed only 120,000 people to vote at 150 sites, even though a normal Florida primary has upwards of a million Democrats and 6,700 polling sites. Because of the size of this state, there is no way to equitably distribute 150 sites. Many Democratic voters live in urban areas and do not have personal transportation. Or some live in rural counties and would have to drive for hours to get to a site. Those are just some of the problems that would effectively disenfranchise voters.

What about the property tax reform constitutional amendment the Republicans are pushing?
In addition to the presidential primary vote, the Republican-controlled Legislature scheduled a ballot question on a constitutional amendment about property taxes for January 29. The amendment stands to slash upwards of $7 billion to education over the next five years and cut literally thousands of jobs at the municipal level - including firefighters, police, teachers, and others. This would be a major change to the lives of every Floridian, and the Florida Democratic Party believes that all voters should be encouraged to vote on this initiative.

And the municipal elections?
On January 29, the ballot will also include numerous municipal elections. While Florida Democrats did pretty well in 2006, picking up two Congressional seats - should have been a third were it not for the touch-screen voting machines in District 13 - electing the first Democratic Cabinet member since 1998, taking back eight Republican-held House seats, and winning the Hispanic vote for the first time since 1976, we still have a long way to go to take back the majority here. We have worked hard to build our bench. But Republicans will turnout in big numbers on January 29th, even though they have a weak slate of candidates. Florida Democrats must turn out in full force to vote on January 29th so we can continue electing strong and responsible elected officials at the municipal level.

What about the Four State Pledge? Does this mean the presidential candidates are not coming to the state convention?
Many people are asking about the so-called “Four State Pledge” - the attempt by the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to maintain their positions of influence in the nominating process. We don’t support the pledge, and we are disappointed that most of the candidates have signed it, but that’s their decision. In reality, the candidates were most likely not coming here anyway other than for fundraising.

The four early states informed the Florida Democratic Party that they would not allow the Presidential candidates to campaign in Florida even if we held an alternative process. We obviously don’t support this, but the candidates signed a pledge to abide by these states’ decisions. However, we are still planning for an exciting 2007 State Convention Oct. 26-28 at Disney. Details to come.

What about the delegate section process? Why still go through with the process if the DNC isn’t giving Florida any delegates?
Although the DNC has said it will not recognize delegates from Florida, the Party plans to appeal to the eventual Democratic nominee for President to be seated at the Convention.  This does not minimize the importance and impact of the vote on January 29th. With this in mind, the Party will continue the delegate selection process to elect the actual delegates to the Democratic National Convention and will use the results of the January 29th Presidential Preference Primary to determine the apportionment of those delegates.