Politics & Government

Florida's vote-by-mail primary proposal panned

WASHINGTON — The Florida Democratic Party's proposal to conduct a new Democratic presidential primary by mail got a resounding thumbs down from the state's Democrats in Congress as well as some of Florida's largest daily newspapers.

U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, Democrat from Boca Raton, told Fox News that all of the state's nine Democratic House members — who include Hillary Clinton supporters, Barack Obama supporters and the undecided — are firmly opposed to redoing the Jan. 29 primary by mail.

"A mail-in ballot for Florida will not work, we oppose it,'' said Wexler, who chairs Obama's Florida campaign. Wexler said the state has no experience conducting such elections and that there would be "all sorts of opportunity for fraud."

"To put it together hastily, without the ability to authenticate signatures, is a recipe for chaos,'' he said. "We will have two contested elections rather than one.''

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, a Democrat from Miami and a key advisor to Clinton, called the vote-by-mail proposal "a disaster'' and said he believes the Clinton camp shares his opinion.

The debate over the delegates has opened a rift between the state's congressional delegation in Washington and the state party in Tallahassee, but Meek lauded the state party for "at least moving off the dime and pushing the national party and saying 'We must do something, not now, but right now.' ''

But, he cautioned the state has no experience with the kind of mail-in contest the party has proposed.

"The more people find out about this mail-in option that's on the table, the less they're going to like it,'' he said.

Florida state House Minority Leader Dan Gelber, who a month ago had proposed a mail-in primary as a resolution, said Thursday in his blog that fears of mistakes and fraud are "overstated."

"While that would be a concern if this where a regular election where the winner takes all — this is a selection process where delegates are awarded proportionally,'' he wrote. "In other words, even if the vote had mistakes (and even a level of fraud in excess of a regular election), it is unlikely that inaccuracies would change the delegate count at the end of the day.

"Remember, many states decide their delegates by herding people into an auditorium and counting hands,'' he wrote. "So I think the vote would be reflective enough of the will of the voters.''

But Gelber noted in his pro and con piece that some groups have "raised concerns that poorer communities (with high mobility rates) and college kids will be left behind. This is a legitimate issue.''

The two largest newspapers in South Florida also weighed in against the proposal. The Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale said Florida should give up any hopes of having a role in selecting the party's nominee and instead be willing to endorse whoever is selected in the end.

"It's time for Florida, and the state's Democrats, to let this whole debacle go," the paper said in an editorial. "The only fair, face-saving way out of this mess is for Florida Democrats to accede to the delegate ban until a nominee is chosen. Once that's done, the nominee should invite the Florida delegation to be seated at the national convention, and to cast their votes in the name of party unity."

The Miami Herald panned the proposal as well, calling it an "absurd idea...a last-ditch, Hail Mary pass that has failure written all over it."

"The politicians who created this mess must come up with a better plan to fix it than a flawed re-vote that replaces a perfectly valid election," the editorial said.

Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, in a series of television appearances neither endorsed nor criticized the proposal. He said the best option will be "whatever we can get the candidates to agree with, which puts a vote back in the hands of people of Florida and Michigan and that's going to be not so easy to do."

He noted that the party is "three-quarters of the way down the track to selecting a nominee and whatever we change in the middle of all this has got to be fair to all sides.''

"This is going to require some delicacy, some diplomacy," he said. "But if we want to be united at the convention, we ought to try to fix this problem now.''

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