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Florida Democrats to offer plan for vote-by-mail presidential primary
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Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., speaks accompanied by U.S. Air Force Gen. Merrill McPeak, Wednesday, March 12, 2008 in Chicago. Citing his judgment and ability to lead, admirals and generals from the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force, who together have served under the last nine Commanders-in-Chief today announced their endorsement of Obama for president. - photo by Associated Press
    TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s Democratic Party chair urged Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama, the national party and her own state’s congressional delegation to consider a combined vote-by-mail/in-person plan as a redo of the Jan. 29 presidential primary.
    The idea would be to mail ballots to all registered Democratic voters and set up 50 regional voting offices to help ‘‘disadvantaged communities’’ participate in an election ending June 3, state party Chairman Karen Thurman said in a memo to the campaigns and state and national party leaders.
    Florida’s nine Democratic congressmen voted Tuesday night to oppose a mail-in vote. Thurman urged them to reconsider.
    ‘‘There is no question that we must move quickly to deal with the dispute over Florida’s Democratic presidential primary. Fingers have been pointed in every direction, but how we arrived at this breaking point is irrelevant. The stark reality is that all Democrats lose if this is not resolved immediately,’’ Thurman wrote in a memo that included a draft of the plan. A copy of the memo was obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.
    Thurman asked party leaders to review the draft and send feedback by Friday. On Monday, if there is consensus that the party should go forward with the plan, it would begin raising the estimated $10 million to $12 million to pay for the do-over while also gathering public comment.
    Democrats in Florida and Michigan have been scrambling to come up with alternatives to ensure their delegates will be seated at the national convention in Denver this summer. The Democratic National Committee punished the states for moving their primaries ahead of Feb. 5 and stripped them of all their delegates.
    Clinton won Florida and Michigan, although she was the only major candidate on the ballot in Michigan.
    ‘‘In my view there are two options — honor the results or hold new primary elections. I don’t see any other solutions that are fair and honor the commitment that 2.5 million voters made in the Democratic primaries in those two states,’’ Clinton said Wednesday.
    Obama has said he is concerned about accuracy and fairness with a mail-in vote organized so quickly. Clinton’s campaign has not commented on the mail-in option, except to say it will accept a do-over of the vote and ‘‘consider other scenarios as appropriate.’’
    Obama told reporters Wednesday that his campaign is consulting with officials in Florida, Michigan and the DNC and he’s confident something will be worked out.
    ‘‘My bottom line is, I do want to make sure that the Florida and Michigan delegations have an opportunity to participate in the convention,’’ he said. ‘‘And we want to figure out an equitable way to do that.’’
    Michigan Democratic Party leaders were considering several options to get their delegates seated, including a mail-in vote or a state-run Democratic primary to be held in May or June and paid for by Democratic donors. The latter plan would have to get Republican lawmakers’ approval and faces numerous other hurdles.
    Despite the possible problems, four Michigan Democratic leaders uncommitted to any candidate plan to run the idea past the Obama and Clinton campaigns Thursday during separate talks. Democratic National Committee member Debbie Dingell, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Sen. Carl Levin and Ron Gettelfinger are in that group.
    In Washington Wednesday, Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Bill Nelson of Florida, both Clinton backers, spoke to a meeting of Clinton’s national fundraising team. They said the issue of seating the delegation needed to be resolved, probably through a revote, according to a person who attended. The attendee said the senators discussed potential problems with a mail-in vote, even though Nelson favors one.
    But members of Florida’s congressional delegation said in a statement late Tuesday that they oppose such a step ‘‘or any redo of any kind.’’
    Officials at the Democratic National Committee were working behind the scenes to get the Florida delegation to come together and agree on a solution so the delegates can be seated.
    Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who backs Clinton, spoke to DNC Chairman Howard Dean and said the delegation will work with him on a solution. But she said she will not change her mind about a mail-in vote, in part because seniors who spend the summer up North, poor residents who rent homes and often move and others could be left out.
    ‘‘This is totally experimental,’’ she said, adding Florida voters have been shaken by past election problems, including the 2000 presidential recount, and need their confidence restored. ‘‘Having a party-run election that’s never been done before is not a way to do that.’’
    Clinton also told NPR in an interview that she believes the Michigan results are fair and should be honored even though Obama removed his name from the ballot.
    ‘‘That was his choice, remember,’’ she said. ‘‘There was no rule or requirement that he take his name off the ballot, and his supporters ran a very aggressive campaign to try to get people to vote uncommitted. So it wasn’t that he didn’t participate at all. In fact there was a real effort to get people to vote uncommitted, and I still won 55 percent of the vote.’’
    In Florida, state Senate Democratic Leader Steve Geller dismissed the Florida House members’ concerns and said the mail-in vote is the only reasonable way to seat the state’s delegates.
    ‘‘What is more unacceptable to me is our having no input at all, so if I have to choose between two bad choices, I’ll choose the one that’s least objectionable,’’ Geller said.
    The party would run the election, rather than the state. It would hire a private election management company, an accounting firm and security and would allow representatives from each campaign to observe. The state would be paid to verify ballot signatures.
    Thurman also said the election would help the party’s voter outreach efforts.
    The idea is gaining ground because the race between Obama and Clinton is still unresolved.
    Under party rules, Florida and Michigan would have until June 10 to hold another vote.
    Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler in Washington and Kathy Barks Hoffman in Lansing, Mich., contributed to this report.

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