Florida, Michigan Could Lose Half Their Delegates

The Rules and Bylaws Committee of the Democratic National Committee will meet this weekend to decide the fate of delegates from Florida and Michigan. NPR's Nancy Cook looks at the possible scenarios.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Speaking of a big party, all eyes are on the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee. And we're pretty sure that's the first and last time we will ever speak that sentence. The 30 members of the DNC committee meet tomorrow in a Washington, D.C. Marriott Hotel to determine the fate of Florida and Michigan's delegates. The two states held their primaries early, remember, and they were punished by having their delegates stripped from the convention. Hillary Clinton won both those states and has been on a mission to get them restored, going so far as to compare the situation to another election.

(Soundbite of speech)

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): We're seeing that right now in Zimbabwe. Tragically, an election was held. The president lost. They refused to abide by the will of the people.

MARTIN: Now, under current ruled, the DNC is allowed to strip half the delegates from a state that violates party rules. In the Florida and Michigan cases, they decided to strip all of them. And the meeting this weekend will perhaps decide for good whether half or all of the delegates from the states are seated, though it is unlikely the DNC will restore all the delegates. Meanwhile, voters in Michigan and Florida are expressing frustration at the pretty bizarre fix that they're in. BPP listener Kerstin Upmeyer of Clearwater, Florida, is one of them. She voted for Obama in the Democratic primary. She thinks it may not be possible, though, to know what would have happened under normal voting circumstances.

Ms. KERSTIN UPMEYER (Resident, Clearwater, Florida): There were many people who chose not to go and vote, my own husband being an example. He would have gone and voted for Barack, but he chose not to bother to go to the primary because, in his own words, well, it's not going to count. I'm hoping that I'm speaking for quite a few people who also feel very frustrated and disenfranchised and yet don't really know if there's a right answer at this point.

MARTIN: Nancy Cook is a producer for npr.org and is reporting on this weekend's meeting of the DNC. We spoke with her earlier about the people who are actually going to be making the decision this weekend.

(Soundbite of reverse playback)

NANCY COOK: It's an interesting mix of people from different states and different state parties and then real Democratic insiders. One of Hillary Clinton's advisors, Harold Ickes, is on it, Donna Brazile, who is a campaign manager for Al Gore. But then there's also this woman I spoke to yesterday who used to be a nurse in Iowa, and she's suddenly getting all this attention. So it's this really, you know, interesting mix of people, some of whom really aren't accustomed to being in the spotlight.

MARTIN: So people like the nurse in Iowa, she's all of a sudden finding herself in the spotlight with this very big decision that she is going to be a part of. Did you talk with her about what she - what's going through her head as she approaches this meeting?

COOK: Well, she said it was funny that I'd even gotten through to her yesterday, because her cell phone, you know, voicemail box has been so full of people calling her. It's both people from the media, but also all these people's phone numbers and work numbers have been posted on the Internet by different bloggers.

So they've been inundated both with media requests but also, you know, normal voters and people from Florida and Michigan that want to have their votes counted, who have really been badgering them about, you know, what they want to see happen. And that can be really strange for this woman from Iowa who suddenly, you know, sees herself on CNN or reads her name in the New York Times. I think it's been really jarring.

MARTIN: So people like this woman have actually had phone calls or email correspondence from voters in Michigan and Florida expressing how they want this to go down?

COOK: Another Rules Committee member that I talked to, Garry Shay of California, he's been on the Rules Committee for 14 years. So he's really not new at this, but he said that, you know, this is the first time that he's ever received this kind of attention, and he says he's getting about 500 emails a day from people.

MARTIN: Wow. Is it - did he talk to you about what those emails contained? Were people on the whole saying, listen, we want our votes to be counted no matter what? Or what were people expressing?

COOK: A lot of the emails were saying, you know, they were from Florida and Michigan voters saying we do want our votes to count. We really want you to, you know, vote in this particular way. We think all the delegates should be seated. I think it shows a level of engagement that people have both in the election and then just, you know, the way people feel so strongly about wanting to participate in the Democratic, you know, Party's election this year.

MARTIN: What do you know about how the process is going to unfold? Are they going to be voting on specific plans? There's been a lot of reporting recently about a proposal to seat half of the delegates from each state as a penalty for holding the early primary. How's the process going to unfold?

COOK: They'll be hearing testimony from the people from Florida and Michigan. It is open to the public. It will be broadcast on CNN and MSNBC. And then they're also going to - the members of the committee will also get guidance from the two committee co-chairs and also some DNC lawyers about, you know, what the rules are, why they voted on it this way and how they should proceed. Basically, then people will draft motions that will say, you know, this is how many delegates we should seat. There'll be a series of motions. And then they'll take a vote on it, either through just raising their hand or through some sort of roll call.

MARTIN: Do you have any specifics about what proposals they're going to be taking up? Or what's going to be before them in a vote?

COOK: Well, I talked to the former DNC chair, Don Fowler, and I asked him that. And he said there are actually, you know, there aren't any specific motions yet available. They did - the DNC did release - they did send a memo outlining, you know, the process and everything to some of the committee members on Tuesday. And they didn't necessarily take a position. But one thing that has been floated around is seating half of the delegates from Florida and Michigan, which would allow, you know, the two states to be able to participate but not necessarily - while still sort of penalizing them for violating the national party rules.

MARTIN: We heard from one voter in Florida who expressed some concern about how this might disenfranchise voters in those two states in the general election. If people feel like their primary vote didn't count, how likely will they be to get out in the fall and vote in the general election? From your reporting, Nancy, have you been able to ascertain what the stakes really are of this vote?

COOK: Well, I think the stakes for the Rules and Bylaws Committee is two things. I mean one, as you said, they really don't want to disenfranchise Florida and Michigan voters and have them vote for John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, but at the same time, if they just say, hey, you know, all your delegates can count, they're really undermining their own authority, because they're the ones in the first place that stripped these two states of the delegates. So it's really a balancing act for them.

MARTIN: Do you have any idea, Nancy, why these states went ahead and broke the rules in the first place? Didn't they know this was going to happen?

COOK: Well, I think that, you know, all states wanted to be a part of - you know, every state wants to have the same sort of clout that Iowa and New Hampshire have in terms of, you know, voting very early, getting all that media attention, having voters jazzed up, and I think that the states - you know, other states wanted to get into the mix there.

MARTIN: Nancy, there have also been reports that there will be protests that will be held on Saturday as this meeting takes place. Have you been able to figure out anything about those protests? Who's holding them? Are these organized? Are they kind of organic protests that are going to be happening?

COOK: A lot of the protests have been organized by Clinton supporters who really want to see her, you know, get all these delegates from Florida and Michigan, and it's really been organized, and the same thing goes with a lot of the calls to members of the committee. You know, a lot of the committee people I've talked to said there has been a lot of lobbying, both through emails and also through phone calls from Clinton supporters, but also from members of both campaigns, as to how they should proceed in terms of Saturday's meeting.

MARTIN: OK. Well, we will wait and see what happens out of that very important meeting. Could be - we could - should we say it, dare we say it, close to getting a nominee in the Democratic race for the White House? NPR's Nancy Cook, she's been reporting on this weekend's DNC meeting for npr.org. Nancy, thanks very much. We appreciate you sharing your reporting with us.

COOK: Yep. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Take care.

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