Forfeited Delegates May Get Second Look

Watching Washington

One of the many uncertainties in the neck-and-neck Democratic race between Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton is what will happen to the Michigan and Florida delegations.

Michigan and Florida were stripped of their Democratic delegates after they disobeyed Democratic Party rules and held their primaries before Feb. 5. Although no candidates actively campaigned in either state, Clinton won both primaries and now wants the delegates reinstated.

The Obama camp calls this unfair.

In an interview on New Hampshire Public Radio last fall, Clinton explained why she was the only candidate who did not agree to New Hampshire's request that she take her name off the ballot in Michigan.

"It's clear: This election they're having is not going to count for anything. I personally did not think it made any difference whether or not my name was on the ballot," she said.

But with New Hampshire in her rear view mirror, Clinton decided Michigan's election should count and so should Florida's. Before the Democratic National Committee sanctioned them, the two states had a combined 366 delegates. Clinton, who won a majority in both state contests, now wants them to count.

The day before the Florida, primary she told her supporters, "I want the voters in Florida to know that I hear them."

"Hundreds of thousands of Floridians have already voted, so clearly they are taking this seriously, and they believe their voices are going to be heard and should be counted, and I agree with them," she said.

This is potentially a huge problem for the Democratic Party, says Tad Devine, a veteran Democratic delegate counter who spoke on NPR's Diane Rehm Show.

"If the margin in these two states represents the difference in who the nominee is, it is going to be hard fought, and it could be fought all the way to the convention," Devine said.

The battle is already getting heated. Civil rights activist Al Sharpton, who says he is neutral in the Democratic race, said on MSNBC that the Florida and Michigan delegates should not be counted.

Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP, thinks it is a civil rights violation not to seat them.

Bond says that the process in the two states was inherently unfair because in Michigan, for example, only Clinton's name was on the ballot. He wants the Democratic National Committee to arrange a do-over, so the voters in those states can vote again, but that is unlikely.

Other solutions include spitting the delegates evenly between Obama and Clinton, or dividing them according to the candidates' proportion of the national popular vote. According to Mark Brewer, chairman of the Michigan Democratic State Party, talks are under way with the DNC to resolve the issue.

Devine says if the problem is not solved properly, it will be costly to whoever ends up as the nominee.

So far, there no solution in sight. And if either Obama or Clinton begins to pull ahead by big enough margins in the delegate count, a Michigan and Florida solution may not be necessary. But, if the race stays this tight, the search for a solution will be unavoidable.

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