Fla. Dems settle on new plan for vote-by-mail primary

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 11, 2008 

WASHINGTON — Facing tight deadlines for a do-over election, Florida Democrats are rushing to deliver to the national party as soon as Thursday a plan to vote again in the presidential primary — this time, by mail.

If approved, ballots could start going out to voters in April.

Though the election-by-mail plan has its detractors, state Democrats say they're under a time crunch to complete voting by June 10 — the Democratic National Committee's deadline for allocating delegates. Submitting the plan now will start a 30-day public-comment clock that would end in time for ballots to be sent out mid April.

"We basically run out of time beyond Thursday,'' said state Sen. Steve Geller, a Hallandale Beach Democrat and the state Senate minority leader, who was meeting with party officials and attorneys Tuesday to hammer out details.

Under the emerging plan, estimated to cost as much as $10 million, the state's four million registered Democrats would be mailed self-addressed, stamped ballots that would be tabulated by an independent party, such as an accounting firm or a company that runs corporate shareholder voting.

Ballots would be due back in Tallahassee on a specific day in late May or early June, and regional sites would likely be employed for last-minute voters, party officials said.

The state party would pick up the cost for the unprecedented contest, and a number of national Democratic strategists have said they're ready to begin raising millions for the do-over.

Geller cautioned that technical, bureaucratic and political hurdles still loom. Among them: the design of the ballot and how to ensure secrecy.

The plan would also still need to be vetted by the state party's executive committee and pass muster with the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Democrats hope the plan would comply with DNC rules and result in the restoration of Florida's votes in the presidential nominating contest. Last summer, the national party stripped Florida and Michigan of their delegates to the national convention because the states broke party rules by holding their primaries earlier than DNC rules allowed.

Representatives from the Clinton and Obama campaigns have expressed reluctance about the prospects for such a do-over.

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who began calling for a re-vote last week, said he was to talk to critics Tuesday to convince them to get on board.

"He's telling them, 'We need to get a plan submitted to the national party and we need to do so immediately,' '' Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin said. "There will be 30 days in which everybody will have an opportunity to be heard. There might be criticisims, but let's let them be heard during the 30 days.''

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