Monday, September 24, 2007

Florida Democrats might sue own party over seating of delegates

South Florida Sun Sentinel

State leaders upset delegates may be barred

BY JOE KOLLIN South Florida Sun-Sentinel
September 24, 2007

PEMBROKE PINES - Florida Democratic party leaders on Sunday dared their national party to disenfranchise millions of voters next summer when their delegates meet in Denver to nominate their candidate for president.

Their dare, they added, might be bolstered by a lawsuit contending that "four rogue states" are conspiring to violate the civil rights of minorities in Florida by getting the Democratic National Committee to ignore the results of Florida's Jan. 29 party primary.

"For God's sake, this is the state where the election was stolen from in 2000," state party Vice Chairman Luis Garcia said at a news conference held in Broward because it is the most heavily Democratic county in the state.

At stake are the 210 delegates that Florida Democrats plan to send to the Democratic National Convention in Colorado. The national party in August threatened not to seat those delegates unless Florida delays its primary at least a week so New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina can pick their nominees for president.

"Four rogue states took action against the state of Florida," said Sen. Steve Geller of Cooper City, the Senate's Democratic leader.

Florida Democrats said it wasn't their fault the date was set for Jan. 29; the Republican-controlled Legislature did it. But Democratic leaders said they ruled out other options, such as holding a Democratic-only primary, a caucus or a mail-in vote.

"We looked at other alternatives and some looked serious and some not so serious, but at the end of the day we came down to the primary on Jan. 29 as the only way to have a fair and independent election," said party Chairwoman Karen Thurman.

The problem, she said, is that municipalities throughout Florida moved their elections to Jan. 29 and the state set the same date for Floridians to vote on a constitutional amendment for a "super" homestead exemption. This was done because presidential primaries attract people to the polls and without Democratic candidates on the ballot, Democratic voters might not show up to vote on the other issues.

"So there are a lot of reasons we stand together today to say to voters of the state to vote on Jan. 29 and to be assured their vote will count," she said.

Thurman said the national party isn't likely to carry out its threat to ignore the delegates selected by Florida Democrats.

"I believe they have to seat Florida's delegates," she said. "Florida is part of the United States."

Added Geller: "There is no question that in Denver our delegates will be seated, no question about it."

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, agreed but wouldn't say why she is so sure the national party will be forced to let Florida's Democratic votes count.

Geller said it might take a lawsuit to force the party to seat Florida delegates. He predicted one will be filed contending that the national party, by ordering Florida to move the date, is violating the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965

The suit will be brought, he said, by a minority resident of Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough or Monroe County and contend that the four early voting states are "conspiring amongst each other to intimidate the presidential candidates, telling them that if they come down to Florida, they will be blackballed in the state."

According to Geller, the civil rights violation is that moving the primary date would force minority voters in the five counties to pay to see presidential candidates in person, something they could do for free if the candidates stumped in Florida for the scheduled Jan. 29 primary.

Because candidates would fear being blackballed, he said, their only appearances in Florida would be at fund-raisers open to those who pay. Without the fear of being blackballed, they would come to Florida and make traditional, free campaign appearances.

The suit would have to come from one of the five counties because they are being monitored by the U.S. Department of Justice for violations of minority voting rights.

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