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Delivering a solution to Florida's primary woes

  • Story Highlights
  • A mail-in ballot is one option being considered to solve the state's problems
  • DNC ruled Florida delegates wouldn't be seated after state moved up primary date
  • Politicians are divided on whether mail vote is best option
  • "It would be a risky experiment," one lawmaker says
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From Patrick Oppmann
CNN
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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Is the answer for Florida's primary woes in the mail?

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A revote by mail in Florida could cost about $6 million, and no one knows who would pay for it.

A mail-in ballot is one option being considered to solve the quandary facing state and national officials trying to figure out what to do with the state's discounted primary election.

The problem began last year, when Florida and Michigan challenged Democratic party rules and moved their primaries to earlier in the year. That gamble, aimed to make their contests more relevant, backfired in a big way.

The Democratic National Committee ruled that both states' delegates would not be seated at the party convention. All the Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign in Florida and Michigan before the primary. The GOP also penalized both states.

With Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama locked in a tight race for the Democratic nomination, at about 100 delegates apart, Florida and Michigan's cache of 366 delegates could become a make-or-break prize.

Last week, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, a Clinton supporter, called for a new statewide primary to be held and for the DNC to pick up the tab. Video Watch more on the Florida primary troubles »

"It would have to a full-out primary election, where everyone would have access to their private ballot to know that that ballot was going to count and was going to count as intended and that it's not going be paid for by the taxpayers of Florida, who already paid $18 million for the election that was held in January," he said.

But there was a problem with that plan.

It wasn't that DNC Chairman Howard Dean said the party would not pay for a new primary. And it wasn't that the Obama and Clinton campaigns disagreed on how and whether a second primary should be held.

It was that Florida lacked machines to count votes in 15 counties.

"I guess we can go 'one, two, three, four.' But we are going to run out of fingers and toes pretty quickly," Democratic state Sen. Steve Gellar said.

A spokesman for the Florida Department of State confirmed that the counties are in the process of switching from touch-screen to optical-scan voting machines, which would provide a paper trail documenting voters' intentions. The machines probably won't be ready until July.

The voting machine swap comes as part of the same bill that moved up Florida's primary. Some state Democrats said they voted for the bill only because the voting machine change was a priority for them after the 2000 recount debacle.

Another problem is that the state needs 90 days to prepare for a primary once the governor and legislature have signed off on a new election. That approval has not come, and any new primary would have to be held before June 10 to comply with DNC rules.

June 10, however, is 93 days away, and there is no immediate compromise on a statewide election in sight.

According to the Florida Department of State, a new primary could cost upwards of $20 million.

A much less expensive option now gaining support is a revote by mail.

Florida's approximately 4 million Democrats would receive ballots in the mail and then make their choices for the Democratic nominee without ever stepping into a polling station.

Other than seating the Florida delegates already chosen in the disputed January 29 primary, Nelson said Sunday, a mail-in ballot is the next best option.

"I'm suggesting that one way (is) through a mail-in ballot that they do in Oregon. Mail out a ballot to each registered Democratic voter. The principle here is one man, one person, one vote." Nelson said. "And all these people who say, 'You go to a caucus, or you split the delegation evenly.' That's not expressing the will of the Florida voters, of which almost 2 million turned out."

On CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Nelson offered that the Florida Democratic Party could pay the estimated $6 million cost of a mail-in vote.

A party spokesman refused to comment Monday on whether the party would take on paying for the mail-in election.

But there is a divide among other Florida politicians about the postal option.

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U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Clinton supporter, said Monday that she still thinks the party shouldn't abandon the results of the January primary. Florida is again courting disaster, she said, by attempting to hold its first mail-in vote during such a crucial race.

"I have some real concerns about the possibility of a mail-in ballot," Wasserman Schultz said. "It would be a risky experiment for us with an election that has stakes as high as a presidential election does. We've never done a mail-in ballot statewide." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Susan Candiotti, John Zarrella and Rich Phillips contributed to this report.

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