WASHINGTON — The Florida Democratic Party on Wednesday sent Democratic Party leaders a plan to re-do that state's Jan. 29 primary that calls for sending ballots to all registered Democrats in Florida and ask them to return them by mail.
In a memo that was sent to both party leaders and the campaigns of Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Florida Democratic party chairman Karen Thurman called the vote-by-mail primary the "only option ... that offers Florida voters a voice in the nominating process."
In the memo, Thurman warned that the party's quest to win the White House could be damaged if the dispute over Florida's delegates is not settled. She cited a poll commissioned by the state party that found that just 63 percent of Democratic voters in Florida would vote for the Democratic nominee in the November election "if Florida voters are not counted."
"Because of the unprecedented nature of the national race, a situation that previously was a relatively minor, party-insider issue now has the potential to result in irreparable damage for years to come," she wrote in the five-page proposal that went to Democratic National Committee members and both campaigns.
The Florida party's proposal came as Clinton, long a proponent of counting the results of Florida's January primary, said that she would support a re-do in Florida and Michigan, if the DNC decided not to seat those states' delegations at the party's national convention this summer. The DNC striopped both states of their delegates last year for scheduling primaries earlier than party rules allowed.
"In my view there are two options: Honor the results or hold new primary elections," Clinton said in the address before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Clinton's campaign manager, Maggie Williams, sent an open letter to Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, asking that the two campaigns work together to ensure that delegates from both Florida and Michigan are reinstated.
Plouffe, in a conference call with reporters, once again ruled out seating the delegates based on the January results, noting that Obama wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan. He suggested that Williams' appeal was "based on increasingly desperate, self-serving stretching for whatever they think might help them secure the nomination."
Plouffe said the Obama campaign also has reservations about a proposal for a repeat primary by mail. "We'll watch carefully to see what kind of remedies are floated," Plouffe said, noting that the campaign would abide by a solution backed by the Democratic National Committee.
The Florida party ruled out a full traditional election as too costly and a caucus as undemocratic, but said it had studied Oregon's vote-by-mail contests and believed the party would benefit by holding it.
"Every registered Democratic voter will be given the opportunity to be part of the process," Thurman wrote, adding that some voters would be voting for the first time or voting by mail for the first time.
"Both are important to Democratic victories in the future," Thurman added. "If the party increases the number of Democrats who vote and the number of people who vote by mail, we can get that much closer to victory in November."
In Tallahassee, Florida's capital, state Sen. Steve Geller, the Senate Democratic leader, released the poll, noting that a majority of 600 registered Democrats who voted Jan. 29 back a new election.
The vote-by-mail contest could cost as much as $10 million, and several national Clinton backers have suggested they could help raise money for the state party to conduct it.
Under the plan, postage-paid ballots would be sent to voters who are registered as Democrats by early April. There are now 4.1 million registered Democrats in the state, but the plan would allow independents and Republicans who did not vote in the Jan. 29 primary to change party registration and vote by mail.
The plan drew immediate criticism late Wednesday from DNC member Jon Ausman of Tallahassee, who said the money would be better spent on winning in November and questioned whether the state could put together a massive undertaking in such a short amount of time.
The dispute over what to do about Florida's delegates also has sparked a rift in Florida's Democratic congressional delegation. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who supports Clinton, last week began championing a re-vote, and nudged critics Wednesday to offer a solution. "If anyone has another way of accomplishing this... it needs to be put on the table — and now — before it's too late," he said.
Democrats in the U.S. House are split on who they support for president, but have agreed that a vote-by-mail primary is not a solution, said Rep. Alcee Hastings, who represents Miramar, outside Miami. "It's fraught with all sorts of difficulties," Hastings said.