Sunday, February 17, 2008

Disaster! (or "On the Seating of the FL and MI Delegations")

Recently the Hillary Clinton campaign has been advocating the seating the delegations from Florida and Michigan. Such a move would be illogical, unjust, and could quite possibly result in an outright theft of the Democratic nomination. Calls to seat the delegations are merely examples of the anything-to-win political gamesmanship that has poisoned our system for so long.

To begin with, I am not addressing the wisdom of the DNC in stripping those states of their delegations in the first place. There is an important debate to be had about the propriety of that decision, but it is irrelevant on whether or not to seat the delegations from Florida and Michigan. That decision is a sunk cost; it has been made and its consequences have occurred.

First, I should make clear that I view the purpose of a primary election or caucus as a means of determining the will of the voters in a given state. The will of the voters is then converted into delegations to be sent to the party's convention. The transitive property does not apply here; you simply cannot remove the will of the voters from the equation. If will of the voters cannot be discerned, the delegations are worthless and should be excluded. And that is why the Florida and Michigan delegations must not be seated. Let's examine them one at a time.


We cannot know the will of the voters in Florida. For weeks in advance of the primary, voters there were told by the media that their votes wouldn't count. We cannot know how many chose not to vote as a result of that nor can we know what proportion of supporters for each candidate decided not to vote. If we can assume Clinton supporters and Obama supporters avoided the polls in equal proportions, that would be one thing. But until someone affirmatively demonstrates that to be the cause, it is a risk we musn't take.

Given these uncertainties, the least-bad option is to do with the results precisely what Florida voters were told would be done with them: disregard them. To do otherwise risks disenfranchising the voters of Florida. (For those from Washington State, imagine that in this beauty-pageant of a primary we're having, Hillary Clinton crushes Obama and the state party then decides to base half its delegates on that result. You chose not to vote because you were told over and over again that it was meaningless. That is the danger in Florida.)


In the case of Michigan, you have all the problems of Florida. But Michigan is worse. Its results have all the legitimacy of a Saddam Hussein election. You see, just as in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, there was only one candidate on the ballot. Despite this, 40% of voters cast their ballots for what effectively amounted to "Not-Hillary-Clinton." In addition to knowing how many scores chose not to vote, we have no way of knowing how many of those "Not-Hillary-Clinton" votes were for Obama, Edwards, or Biden. Simply put, we have NO WAY of knowing how to apportion the Michigan delegation. No informed neutral observer could possibly argue this delegation should be seated; to even suggest as much is a staggering display of either ignorance or, worse, win-at-any-cost politics.

(For those interested in other aspects of the nominating process, I recommend the excellent treatment of the subject over at Pro Bono Geek.)

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