Count Every Vote or Play by the Rules?
That was the question at the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting
by Jo Freeman
Two thousand angry voters, mostly Hillary supporters with a scattering of Obama-ites converged from all over the country on a meeting of the Rules and Bylaws Committee of the Democratic National Committee held in Washington, DC on May 31. They shouted and chanted to "Count Every Vote" on the streets of a quiet DC neighborhood while the RBC met in a nearby hotel. It was there to hear testimony and decide whether to allow delegates from Florida and Michigan to participate in the 2008 Democratic National Convention. The two dozen or so protesters still present at the end of the day when the Committee made its decision went home mad.
Although the Hillary for President campaign carefully stayed away from organizing these protests, her supporters did their own thing. Two new NYC groups joined together to organize the rally, but were supported by others in its execution. In March, a group of Democratic women activists formed "Count Every Vote ‘08" to support Clinton and "other qualified women candidates across the country." The WomenCount PAC was created on May 12 by "a group of women who had traveled together around the country to campaign for Hillary." Initially, they raised money to run ads in the major media. Many more Hillary supporters were mobilized by such entities as the Hillary Rapid Responders.
Four buses arrived from New York City before 7:00 a.m., and about ten made the much longer trip from Florida. Mostly people came on their own, especially from the neighboring states of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. A car of 'Hill-raisers' drove up from Kentucky. One young man took a bus from Boston and another flew out from California. Signs proclaimed protesters from Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Missouri.
They broke mid morning for a short rally. After many buses returned to home states, the remaining few hundred people took up their positions at the entrances to the hotel driveways, trading shouts and honks with passing cars. After a drenching downpour mid-afternoon, those who were left, retreated inside.
The origin of the dispute was an attempt by the DNC to impose some order on the Democratic presidential primary selection process — one in which each state legislature and the state parties are the only ones who can make binding decisions on when and how voters can pick a candidate or select delegates to a convention.
In August of 2006, the DNC issued its rule on timing of presidential primaries. It deferred to the tradition of the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary going first, and said that Nevada and South Carolina were the only other states that could hold a primary or caucus in January.
The DNC felt that these two states added regional and ethnic diversity to the early contests while still being small enough that candidates for the Democratic nomination wouldn’t have to raise large amounts of money for major media buys. All other states had to wait until February 5 or later. A year later the eight Democratic candidates pledged not to campaign in any other state that held a primary or caucus before February 5.
Both the Michigan and Florida Democratic parties held extensive discussions with the RBC throughout 2007 without coming to agreement. Therefore, when those states finalized their primary dates as January 15 and 29 respectively, the DNC informed each state party that its delegates would not be seated and could not vote.
Senator Obama took his name off of the Michigan ballot and his supporters in Michigan told voters to vote "Uncommitted." Clinton, Dodd, Kucinich and Gravel left their names on the Michigan ballot. Clinton received 55% of almost six hundred thousand votes, Uncommitted got 40% and Kucinich got 4% — too little to qualify for any delegates. Women cast 57% of the Democratic votes.
Florida did not provide a means for removing names from the ballot once certified, so all candidates remained on it. Clinton got almost 50%, Obama 33% and Edwards 14% of the 1.67 million Democratic votes. The other five candidates each received less than one percent. Women were 59% of these voters.
On March 12, Jon Ausman, a DNC member from Florida, challenged the decision of the RBC to not seat the Florida delegates. On May 12, Mark Brewer, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, filed a similar challenge.
The RBC Meeting
In the weeks leading up to the May 31 meeting, RBC members were deluged with e-mails and letters, most from Clinton supporters demanding that they seat both state delegations at the convention. DNC committee meetings are open to the public. Anticipating an extraordinarily large turnout, the DNC posted on its webpage a means of applying for a guest credential beginning on May 27. All spots were taken within five minutes of becoming available. Upon arrival at the hotel, 'guests' discovered that most guest credentials did not readily give access to the RBC meeting itself, but to an 'overflow' room at a different hotel where the proceedings could be viewed on a screen.
To keep from being overwhelmed by demonstrators, the DNC also hired several dozen security guards in addition to those employed by the hotel. They guarded all the doors, carefully scrutinizing the passes and refusing entry to anyone without the specific pass to enter that door.
At the entrances to the hotel, guards and DNC staff turned away any member of the public who did not have a DNC confirmation or could otherwise prove that they had a right to be in the hotel. This was somewhat inconvenient for normal hotel guests and attendees at a medical conference being held that day.
The RBC has 28 members plus two co-chairs — equally divided by gender in keeping with the Democratic Charter. The RBC members from Michigan and Florida could not vote on their own challenges. Two others were absent but sent proxies. Co-chairs Jim Roosevelt Jr. (grandson of FDR) and Alexis Herman (Clinton’s Secretary of Labor) could only vote if there was a tie. There were no ties.
Four people testified for each state: the challenger, and a representative of the state party, the Obama campaign and the Clinton campaign. Ironically, all four agreed within each state, but Michigan demanded more than did Florida.
©2008 Jo Freeman for SeniorWomenWeb