Monday, May 16, 2016

The Secret Election

On May 7, 2016, The Florida Democratic Party (FDP) held a statewide election for Democratic voters to select delegates to the Democratic National Convention to be held in Philadelphia, PA in July. These are the delegates who will be nominating the party’s presidential candidate in the 2016 U.S. presidential race.

Not many people vote in these delegate elections; a recent article stated fewer than 200 registered Democrats actually show up at the polls in each of Florida’s 26 congressional districts in such races (approximately 5,200 total voters statewide). By comparison, in the Florida primary in March, 1.7 million Democratic voters cast their ballots. The March primary determined how many delegates would be allocated to each candidate; the May delegate election determined who those delegates would be.

The polls were open from 10 am to 2 pm. In some districts there was more than one polling location. But the ballots were a single page long; in my district it was a simple matter of checking off two boxes on my ballot. One might assume that if the results of the March Democratic primary in which 1.7 million votes were cast could be tallied and broadcast on the news within hours of the polls’ 7 pm closing, then it would be child’s play for the FDP to announce the results that evening of an election with roughly only 5,200 votes cast and in which the polls had closed five hours earlier. But it was not.

Even in totalitarian states, citizens are told who won the elections they voted in, even where the elections were rigged and the winner had been determined before the first vote was cast. Not so, the Florida Democratic Party. The FDP chose not to inform candidates or voters of the results, although a rumor circulating on Facebook claimed the FDP had e-mailed or phoned the winners, leaving the other candidates who had devoted massive time and energy in their campaigns –  and the voters who had made the effort to go to the polls – completely in the dark in the state that invented government in the sunshine laws.

The FDP made no announcements on its website nor did it set up a separate webpage to announce the election results. The FDP never contacted candidates to inform them they had not won the election. This is important for many reasons, not the least of which being that the winners were required to travel to Orlando on May 20, necessitating booking airline and hotel reservations. Since the delegates had to pay these expenses themselves, and since such bookings become more expensive the closer to the travel date, the candidates uncertain of the election outcome were left hanging, not knowing whether to buy tickets and reserve hotel rooms. They also faced the same uncertainty in planning a potential trip to the convention in July, in which they would have to bear approximately $5,000-to-$6,000 in travel expenses, were they to be elected.

Eventually in one Facebook political group, certain delegate candidates began posting they had won their races. Presumably the winners had been contacted by the FDP, as had been rumored. This led to an awkward banana republic scenario in which candidates discovered they had lost by reading their opponents’ victory claims on Facebook. It was as ludicrous as Donald Trump holding a press conference to inform Hillary Clinton that he had won the election.

One member of the Facebook group took it upon himself to collate all the claims of the alleged winners and present a spreadsheet of whom had presumably won in each of the 26 districts. He cautioned, rightfully so, that this was an unofficial list; he was merely compiling the unsubstantiated claims certain candidates had made in Facebook posts. Meanwhile, there was still no official word from the Florida Democratic Party.

On May 11, four days after the election, local candidates received an email from Palm Beach County Democratic chair Terrie Rizzo listing the winners in each of the county’s races. Still no word from the FDP on establishment of a website where candidates or the public could view the statewide results (although the winners were later listed on the FDP’s site). Rizzo’s email was notable for two reasons. First, while listing the winners, it did not list a vote tally. We still have no idea how many votes the winners received or how many votes the losers received. In this Orwellian election it appears we will simply have to take them at their word and not concern ourselves with such trivialities as the actual numbers of votes cast in the election for each candidate. Second, while neither the FDP nor the county Democrats had been able to find the time to email the losing candidates to let them know if they had won or lost the May 7th election, Rizzo had no difficulty emailing them a Mother’s Day greeting— at 1 o’clock in the morning on May 9, the day after the holiday had ended.

Frankly, this is an insult to the voters and to the candidates. The Florida Democratic Party, at both the state and local levels, has one job: elections. That’s what politics is all about. That means counting votes in an accurate and timely manner and disseminating the results publicly. We still don’t know the vote tallies. It doesn’t take four days to count 5,200 votes. The FDP had one job to do and it failed – miserably.

A poster in the Facebook group said he was told by the FDP that, while the Rizzo email contained the “official” results (i.e., who the winners were), the FDP still did not have the numbers tallied. I always thought one had to count the votes first to determine the winner. Apparently, in the Orwellian politics of Florida’s Democratic Party, the winners have been determined and the numbers may (possibly) come later.

On the evening of May 12, another poster in the Facebook group said: “So, the word is they do not plan to publish the vote totals per person in each CD. One reason is not to possibly make some people feel bad.”  OMG! This must be the logical outcome of a generation in which every kid gets a trophy so as not to hurt his feelings. Apparently the FDP has signed on to the Millennial inspired “everyone gets a trophy” Zeitgeist that rewards candidates merely for showing up. It appears it’s no longer about reality but rather about self-esteem; you don’t need numbers or the truth – in fact, you can’t handle the truth, Democratic candidates – just take comfort in the belief that you’re fantastic, not because you did anything but simply because you showed up.

On May 16, Seth Alexander posted on Facebook: “I just got a call back from the Fla Dems Director of Party Affairs Nic Pellito regarding the official tallies from the District Delegate race that was held on May 7th. He stated that they would not be releasing the numbers ‘because they would embarrass some people because they only got one vote.’ I didn't know that democracy was embarrassing.”

Full Disclosure Time: I ran as a candidate in one of those congressional districts. I did not expect to win and I met my expectations. I was a first-time candidate with no clue as to the process (a condition shared by other first-timers who shared and posted  conflicting information about what candidates were required to do or prohibited from doing); and I had no resources. I spent zero dollars on campaigning. There were eight candidates competing against me. One previously had run in a congressional race he told me cost $250,000 and presumably had built his own political network. Two others were college students who were leaders in their campus political organizations and could therefore presumably turn out their votes.

I recalled the election years ago where a little-known candidate was so busy campaigning on election day that he forgot to vote for himself. Now THAT would be the definition of embarrassment. With that in mind, the first thing I did upon arriving at the polls was to vote for myself to ensure I would have at least one vote. I did the math: in an election in which historically fewer than 200 voters show up and nine candidates are running, there would likely be some single-digit outcomes. That’s not a source of embarrassment for the candidates who should be proud to have participated in the democratic process; it is a source of embarrassment for those apathetic citizens who chose to stay home rather than vote.

I went into the election fully aware that eight out of nine of us were going to lose. All things being equal, we each had an 11 percent chance of winning, but as I said, things were definitely not equal. It was like buying a lottery ticket: you know you’re not going to win, yet you’ve compose a mental list of how you will spend your millions… until the winning numbers are revealed and you quietly fold up the list.

Then again, perhaps the lottery is a bad analogy: in Florida, the winning numbers aren’t revealed.

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