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March 18, 2008

A Solution for Michigan and Florida

posted by Josh Goodman

Democrats in Florida and Michigan are out of luck. Florida has given up on holding a presidential revote, while a revote in Michigan is "on life support."

Allow me to suggest a solution to their problems -- and, unlike when I raised the idea of online voting last week, this time I mean it.

Permit Obama and Clinton to campaign in the two states for a specified period of time -- perhaps a few weeks. Then, when the time is up, don't hold elections. Instead, conduct telephone polls asking respondents in Michigan and Florida which candidate they favor. Use the results of those polls to proportionately divvy up delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

This approach would avoid the financial and logistical concerns associated with revotes. For a tiny fraction of the cost of holding elections, surveys could sample far more people than a standard media poll. Polls with 10,000 respondents would cut the margin of sampling error to 1%.

As this primary season has demonstrated, polling is an inexact science. Pollsters in Michigan and Florida would face thorny methodological questions. How do you screen for something akin to likely voters for an election that will never take place?

However, if the Clinton and Obama campaigns came to an agreement on the methodological issues (perhaps with some mediation from the Florida Democratic Party or the Democratic National Committee), it would be hard for anyone to argue that the results were unfair.

The biggest risk to a polling solution probably would be public relations. Many people don't understand how a sample of 1,000 people can measure the views of 100 million. Michiganders and Floridians might still feel excluded.

That's not a trivial problem. Revotes came under consideration largely for public relations reasons.

But look at the alternatives. Not seating the delegations would anger the voters of Florida and Michigan by excluding them from the nomination process. A contentious fight over whether to seat the delegations from the two states would undermine the eventual nominee. If the delegations were seated based on the flawed January contests and Clinton won the nomination because of it, that's an even bigger mess.

The other option I'm hearing is splitting the delegations 50-50 between Obama and Clinton or coming up with some other split (presumably with Clinton getting a slightly bigger share). An arbitrary split doesn't reflect the views of the voters in the two states. People in Florida and Michigan would realize that.

As hard as it is to believe, the best option for the Democratic Party may be to hope that the voters of Michigan and Florida will trust a poll -- or at least prefer a poll to being excluded from one of the most interesting elections of my lifetime.


suzie from atlanta, GA

I am really interested in the online voting option.
Those who do not have access to a personal computer could go to library computers.
Anyone who has ever gone online or used a phone to vote for a favorite on Dancing with the Stars, for example, knows that if you have 5 votes, and you try to take an extra you are stopped cold. The computer you are dialing into can grab you IP, or phone number and count your votes. Certainly if ABC can do this, we should be able to vote this way.
I suppose each voter could register a single phone number or computer, and of course voter registration cards have your phone number, or your address, so what ever ABC does, how it does it, it can't be that difficult.
I would be interested in your thinking about how we could vote on line or by phone.
Frankly, if all else fails, why not let ABC do it? (just kidding, sort of)

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