Friday, March 23, 2007

Florida's House Passes Plan to Leapfrog into Pre-Window Period

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel has reported that the Florida House passed a plan to move the state's 2008 presidential primary to January 29, a week ahead of the cycle's Super Tuesday on February 5. This potential move is consequential for a couple of reasons. First, Florida becomes the earliest big state. Secondly though, this proposed date falls outside window of time both parties have set aside for presidential primaries to be held.

The move also interferes with the Democratic primary in South Carolina on the same day. South Carolina was one of the centerpieces of the Democratic Party plan to integrate more African American and Latino voters into the early portion of the nomination process. This integration is motivated by a perceived need to make the early contests more representative of the Democratic electorate as a whole. Along with Nevada, South Carolina moved into the pre-window period usually reserved for Iowa and New Hampshire.

Now, what does any of this have to do with Florida, a state that certainly has its share of both African American and Latino voters? Well, if the proposal makes it through the Senate and is signed by Governor Charlie Crist, then Florida is in violation of Rule 20.C(1) of the Delegate Selection Rules developed by the Rules and Bylaws Committee of the Democratic National Committee. Sadly, the Democratic Party has yet to post these rules anywhere online that I can find. However, several sites make mention of the sanctions for both state delegations and candidates if this rule is violated. Here is the language of the rule from The Green Papers and here is the same language on P2008. So, if Florida were to move to January 29, not only would the state delegation (including alternates) shrink by fifty percent, but candidates campaigning there would stand to lose pledged delegates and delegate votes from that state. On the Republican side, the rules are laid out here. Rule 15 discusses the issue of primary/caucus timing and Rule 16 details the sanctions for violating that rule. Under the GOP provisions, a state delegation would be reduced by fifty percent if the decision by the state was made prior to the party's call to the convention. If a decision to move is made following that call then the delegation would suffer a cut of ninety percent!

Those seem like significant penalties. But the vote in the Florida House featured only one dissenting vote and that would appear to indicate general support for the plan.