Analysis: Florida fights to have primary votes counted

Although Florida held its primary elections over a month ago, the state has yet to leave the national spotlight. In December, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced that it would not seat any of Florida’s delegates, after a row with the state Legislature over the exact date that Florida can hold its primary.

Now, in the midst of a close race, Sen. Hillary Clinton is campaigning to have those votes reinstated and the delegates seated at the national convention. Just Tuesday night, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, joined forces to petition for their states’ primary votes to count. Both states are looking into the possibility of a new primary to be held by June.

And some students said their interest in the election hinges on whether Florida’s votes count.

After winning Texas and Ohio on Tuesday, Clinton is looking to Florida to help close the gap between herself and Sen. Barack Obama. Clinton won 49 percent of the vote in January, and the addition of the Florida delegates could give her a slight lead in the race, according to the New York Times’ delegate count.

After the state Legislature decided to move the primary election date to Jan. 29, the DNC elected to punish the state by banning all Florida delegates from the national convention.

As a means of further punishment, the DNC also had every candidate sign an agreement not to campaign in either Florida or Michigan, another state whose primary votes will not count – at this point – because it changed its primary date.

“All the candidates were firmly in support of this,” J. Edwin Benton, professor of government and international affairs at USF, said. “Lo and behold, Clinton wins the state and of course she’s up in the high road.”

Benton went on to say that it was natural for the Clinton campaign to want to seat these delegates and that he thinks Obama would have reacted the same way had the race worked out differently.

If the DNC does decide to seat the delegates, not only will Clinton have closed the gap in a tight race, but she will also have an opportunity to campaign for the support of Florida’s 22 elected officials and party leaders, known as superdelegates. These delegates are not obliged to follow the choice of their constituency and can choose whichever candidate they prefer, which can significantly alter the outcome of a close race like this one.

Despite the fact that DNC chairman Howard Dean has said the party will not seat any delegates from either Florida or Michigan, some observers think the Democrats will seat these delegates anyway, so they don’t disenfranchise voters in two key states.

“Michigan and Florida are both large states. You’re not going to want to alienate a state that you’ve received so much funding from,” said Susan McManus, a distinguished professor of government and international affairs.

If Florida delegates are seated, the DNC will still have to work out how it will distribute those delegates. Benton said the additional 185 delegates would begin to take on new meaning if the race continues to be close. If the delegates are divided up, however, it could significantly alter the outcome or even prolong the fight.

Anthony Jones, a senior at USF, said he did not feel like voting if Florida’s delegates are not counted.

“The outcome could change if the votes count,” he said. “If they don’t count, what’s that saying to us?”

Although the votes may not count, Sean Kelly, an international affairs major, thinks voters went to the polls so their voices would be heard.

“She (Clinton) knows that it can possibly boost her campaign,” he said. “Besides, I wouldn’t say this is untypical for the Clintons.”