Mar 11, 2008

WSU Prof: Splitting Michigan presidential delegation may be best solution

Finding a way to seat Michigan’s presidential delegates has dominated the news in the last week, and as it gets closer to the Democratic National Convention in August, any potential solution will be hard to implement.

“This is a real sticky problem,” said Wayne State University political science professor Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson. “A lot of people are talking about a lot of different solutions, and all of them have problems.

“We have gotten ourselves in a ditch, and we don’t know how to get out,” she said. Her proposal is to split the Michigan delegation 50-50 between Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama..

Michigan and Florida were penalized by the Democratic National Committee for moving up their presidential primaries to have more of a voice in the selection process and have the candidates address issues facing the two states. The DNC stripped the two states of their delegates because of the early primaries, and the DNC said it would not seat the delegates at the convention in Denver in August if they went forward with the early primaries. With the race between Clinton and Obama so close, Florida and Michigan’s 366 delegates are critical.

Clinton won in Florida, where both candidates’ names were in the ballot, but neither candidate campaigned there during the primary. In Michigan Clinton won, but Obama’s name was not on the ballot. The latest plan floated for Michigan is a mail-in vote, and that would still cost a lot of money.

“I’m concerned if that if they do something slap-dash, it will be suspect,” Sarbaugh-Thompson said.

Sarbaugh-Thompson said the best solution for Michigan is to simply split the delegates 50-50. She said because most states have doled out their delegates via a percentage of the vote instead of a winner-take-all situation, the delegate split has been pretty close even when one candidate was a big winner.

“My personal recommendation has been that, if you look at what happened in Wyoming, where Obama won big with more than 60 percent of the vote but only got seven delegates to her five, it should be split straight down the middle,” she said.

The latest poll has the two candidates almost dead even in Michigan, and Sarbaugh-Thompson said it would seem to make sense to split the delegates.

Sen. Carl Levin is one prominent Michigan Democrat pushing the vote by mail option, as is former U.S. Rep. David Bonior, who was the campaign manager for former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. That option would not be that expensive. It’s estimated it would cost about a third less than a normal election at no more than $2 million, compared to the $10 million spent on the Jan. 15 Michigan primary. But some of the biggest potential problems include who will count the ballots and what to do with the fact Michigan runs an open primary where the voter does not have to declare a party to vote.

One thing is certain: There is no support in the Michigan Legislature for paying for any kind of do-over with tax money. In a story in the New York Times on Sunday, Gov. Jon S. Corzine of New Jersey and Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania were quoted as saying they would be willing to raise half the $30 million it would take to conduct elections in both Florida and Michigan.

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer said during an interview on Sunday on Grand Rapids TV station WOOD that a caucus is out of the question. He said it would take “millions of dollars” to pull off, but more important is the time factor. Caucuses have been held in Michigan on the Democratic side in the past, and Brewer said it takes nine months to a year of planning and preparation to pull off. The party has two months. Additionally, Brewer said the Obama campaign is against a do-over, and he said the party would need at least 1,000 caucus sites and the people to deal with a voter turnout that could be as high as 2 million people.

“You simply could not run 1,000 sites with just volunteers,” Brewer said. “It just can’t be done, and you would have to hire staff.”

Sarbaugh-Thompson said she is also concerned about the meddling of Republicans in any remaining primaries because they have already chosen their nominee, and there were plenty of crossover votes in Ohio last week.

“Thanks to the Republicans, the process did not end on March 4 Super Tuesday,” she said. “The longer the Democrats keep this going, the less time there is to heal the party.”

The one thing most people agree on is the delegation must be seated. Both states are swing states – although Michigan has been blue since 1992 – and it's doubtful that the White House can be won without winning Florida or Michigan. In addition to the money lost paying for a a do-over election that could be used in the general election, Democrats upset at not being seated would not be very thrilled about helping with the get-out-the-vote activities in November.

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