Democrats in Stalemate

Friday, March 21, 2008

THE COLLAPSE of efforts to conduct new primaries in Michigan and Florida leaves the Democratic Party in a pickle partly of its own making. That's not our concern. Our worry is about voters in Florida and Michigan. They shouldn't be punished because lawmakers and state party officials scheduled unauthorized early primaries or because national Democrats failed to anticipate the high cost of making good on their threat to ignore results from states that jumped the starting gun. The best solution -- one that seems all but impossible at the moment -- would be to hold new votes in both states, perhaps reducing their delegate allocation as a price for having tried to game the system. While it's unlikely that these do-overs would be enough to tip the nomination to either Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the more voters who participated, the more legitimacy would be accorded the ultimate outcome. Without a new vote, however, it's incumbent on the party and the candidates to come up with a fair way to dig themselves out of this mess.

In Florida, at least, voters were given a ballot that included both Ms. Clinton and Mr. Obama. Despite Ms. Clinton's unseemly election night appearance in the state, neither candidate campaigned there. Ms. Clinton, who won the vote, arguably had the advantage of greater name recognition; Mr. Obama arguably was penalized by not being able to introduce himself to voters by campaigning in the state. Yet this was a reasonably level playing field, and any undue advantage could be reduced by cutting the number of delegates in half, as has been suggested.

Michigan presents a bigger problem, because the fundamental choice there was between Ms. Clinton and "uncommitted." Ms. Clinton airily says that it was Mr. Obama's choice to remove his name from the ballot. That's no answer; this was not in any way a contest that reflected voters' preferences. Granted, there were practical, legal and substantive problems with the do-over proposal that died yesterday. Some of those could be solved simply by giving local election officials a bit more time to gear up for a new vote. Democratic National Committee rules require that primary voting be completed by June 10, but that date is not chiseled in stone. If a few extra weeks could make the difference, there's no reason not to stretch out the calendar a bit.

The harder question in Michigan was whether to allow votes by Democrats and independents who chose to vote in the Republican primary in January. Under the now-defunct proposal, those voters would not have been allowed to participate. There would be some unfairness either way, but the better solution would be to allow anyone who wants to vote in the open primary to cast a ballot. The assumption is that this discussion is moot because the state legislature adjourned yesterday for a two-week break. Maybe, but if Michigan lawmakers care about their state's voters, they will come back to fix the mess they helped create. Otherwise, the party should figure out a way to get a new round of voting done on its own.

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