In the Tampa Times a few days ago, my co-editor Kartik Krishnaiyer pointed out that Rod Smith emphasized that the Florida Democratic Party should change the way in which they elect their chair. According to Smith, people like Bob Graham would be restricted in seeking the office because of the rules. Honestly, I think Chairman Smith is absolutely correct.
While there are some flaws to the plan, there are also some very valid points as well. Let’s look at some of these concerns.
First, Smith said that the current system that is set up restricts possible qualified candidates from running the Florida Democratic Party. That is absolutely true. With the exception of Alan Clendenin, I feel that the best people to run the party chair could not do so because they don’t hold one of the elected positions required in their local DECs. Therefore, opening the process to those that want to run, as long as they are a registered Democrat, and have been for the last two years, seems entirely valid to me.
While this process will help bring in more qualified candidates, it can also bring in a lot of less qualified candidates who could possibly win because of name identification alone. While I am a Bob Graham supporter (one of the nicest politicians I have ever met), I am not entirely sure that he would be able to run the Florida Democratic Party. Being an US Senator and the chair of a political party are two entirely different things. Therefore, opening up the floor to everyone might have its pitfalls because popular, but not necessarily qualified, candidates can win. I feel that has been the case with the last three chairs.
Is this a risk that the Florida Democratic Party should take? I feel that it should be. I think there are a lot more qualified candidates that are being excluded from the process than what the current process offers. Yes, there might be some unqualified people. But hopefully the cream will rise to the top. Is it perfect? Not at all. But it would be a better idea than the current plan, which is very authoritarian in practice.
Qualifications for candidates is just one part of the problem. While it is hard to qualify as a candidate for Florida Democratic Party chair, it is damn near impossible to be a voter in the process. Therefore, who should be allowed to vote?
In Canada, members of political parties can vote for their chair. Yes, all members. For example, the New Democratic Party recently had a leadership vote because of the death of their leader Jack Layton. In order to vote in the NDP leadership race, you must be a member of the party, that was it. Voting was permitted by mail, in person at their leadership convention or online. With multiple candidates, there was an instant runoff election. Still, only those that voted online or in person were able to vote in the runoff. When all was said and done, Thomas Muclair was elected leader.
Of course, in Canada it is a little different. Usually the leader of a political party also assumes the role of Prime Minister, the Official Opposition or leader of one of the smaller parties. While this is usually the case, it isn’t always the case. In the recent NDP leadership race, Brian Topp, who finished 2nd behind Mulcair, was not and has never been elected as a Member of Parliament. Therefore, those that run for this position do not require seating in the House of Commons.
Bringing up the Mulcair example does stress one important problem, which is that elected leaders have an advantage when the election is opened up to all members of a political party. On the first ballot of the race, 65,108 ballots were cast. With Mulcair being the Deputy Leader of the NDP, he was well known to the 65,108 that voted. Even so, other well known MPs like Peggy Nash and Paul Dewar were eliminated quite early. On the other hand, Brian Topp, a political strategist in nature, finished second. Again, the cream rose to the top in this race for the leadership.
Still, in Florida it would be a little different. If we allowed all registered Democrats to vote in this race, it could be a costly and logistical nightmare. With 4.8 million registered Democrats in Florida, having every Democrat vote in the state (or even a small fraction), wouldn’t be the best outcome. Also, because the average Democrat can’t even name who the chairman of the Florida Democratic Party is, those candidates who have name identification would easily win any election.
If we want to truly open up the process, we should let each precinct committeeman and committeewoman have one voter. Not only does this process make it fair to all members of the Florida Democratic Party, but it makes it more Democratic as well. What are the largest advantages of this system? Well, let’s look:
1. Candidates must actually campaign. Because every member has one vote, candidates for the FDP chair position would have to campaign at local DEC meetings instead of talking to one or two people on the phone who are the real people who control a county’s votes.
2. Less political promises can be made. For example, the Broward and Miami-Dade County State Committeemen and Women have the the most amount of votes in the current system. Therefore, promising someone the chair of a committee or another position in the party would be reduced.
3. Plans matter. If the state committee members have less of a say than they did in the past, candidates for this position would actually have to present a plan to the voters, because each person’s vote counts the same.
4. No alliances. While a slate of precinct committeemen and women might work out something in their own counties, they would be much less influential in the race for state chair than a coalition of five or six state committee members from large counties. Therefore, each person can vote on their own without having to worry about consequences.
5. The true voice of the Democratic Party. The vote in the race for chair would be truly representative of the make up of the Florida Democratic Party if the elections were held in this manner instead of the hands of a few elites.
Also, in order for this system to work, ballots must be private. During the elections for the Orange County DEC, members were required to put their names on their ballots. Not only is this highly undemocratic, it is also used as an intimidation tool. If something like this were happening in Latin America, we would be up in arms. We should be up in arms as well when DECs do it.
Of course, this isn’t a perfect system just yet, but it can be. Opening up the vote to just DEC precinct committee members makes it so that we hopefully have an educated electorate that have the best interests of the party in hand instead of whoever has the best collection of Democratic Party elites. This also means that, because they are elected to their DECs, they will pay more attention to who is running for the position unlike the average registered Democrat that has no clue what the election is even for.
In order for this system to work, we need to open up the system for anyone to run for the position. But if we do that, opening up the vote to precinct committee people MUST be allowed as well. Doing one without the other is counter productive.
The Canadians have a good system. We should try, in some way, to copy it.