Thursday, February 14, 2008

delegating responsibility

Evidently Hillary Clinton will now insist that the Michigan and Florida delegates be seated to vote at the Democratic convention. She needs their votes, as they are big states, and she won both by large margins.

The problem is that the party decided long ago - with the agreement of all the candidates, including Clinton - not to seat delegates from Michigan and Florida, because these states violated rules governing the timing of primaries. Officials in Michigan and Florida were warned not to hold their primaries before February 5, but they went ahead anyway. (These rules were in place to stop the primary season from drifting inexorably earlier - without them, we might have had Iowa and New Hampshire before Christmas.) As punishment, the party took away all their delegates, and got the candidates (except Dennis Kucinich) to agree not to campaign in the states.

In Michigan, Clinton was the only major candidate whose name even appeared on the ballot (Edwards and Obama had theirs removed). She won 55% of the vote. In Florida, she flirted with campaigning, despite her pledge not to. She beat Obama by 17% there. Now she wants the Michigan and Florida delegates to be allowed into the convention after all. Michigan would have 128 delegates and Florida 185 delegates. Large majorities of each would be assigned to Clinton (Obama, whose name was not on the ballot in Michigan, would receive none at all from that state). This may be enough to tip the delegate count in Clinton's favor, despite Obama's current lead.

Here's what I'll say. If Obama continues to hold the delegate lead, and if Clinton ultimately secures the nomination by getting the Michigan and Florida delegates seated, then I will not vote for Hillary Clinton in the general election. Claiming the delegates from illegitimate elections - elections with only one candidate on the ballot, or in which voters had every reason not to vote - is a shameless abuse of democracy. If the Clinton campaign is willing to do this to win, then I do not want them in the White House.

I agree that the Michigan and Florida delegates should have been counted. But once all of the candidates agreed to these rules and the elections were run, it stopped being appropriate to fiddle with the process. If Clinton wants the delegates from Michigan and Florida to count, she should encourage these states to run their primaries (or caucuses) again, now that the Feb 5 rule has passed. Of course, it's extremely unlikely that she would do quite so well again in both states. But it's about the principle, right?