TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida Democrats on Thursday proposed a vote-by-mail presidential primary to solve the high-stakes delegate dispute while acknowledging the plan's chances are slim.
Democrats in Florida and Michigan have been struggling to come up with an alternative to ensure their delegates are seated at the national convention this summer after the party punished them for holding early primaries. The pressure to resolve the issue has increased amid the protracted fight for every delegate between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.
Karen Thurman, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, offered a mail-in/in person proposal for voting and urged state leaders, the national party and the presidential candidates to sign on. Under the plan, all of Florida's 4.1 million Democrats would be mailed a ballot. They could send it back, or cast a ballot in one of 50 regional voting centers that would be set up. The election would end June 3, a week before a Democratic National Committee deadline to name delegates.
The estimated cost is $10 million to $12 million.
Asked if the plan will be implemented, Thurman said, "I have a feeling that this is probably closer to not, than yes."
Members of Florida's congressional delegation reiterated their opposition to the plan, saying, "We do not believe that this is a realistic option at this time and remain opposed to a mail-in ballot election or any new primary election in Florida of any kind."
Thurman will review comments from Democratic leaders and make a decision by Monday on whether to proceed with the re-vote. But she acknowledged that Obama has had concerns and the Democratic National Committee won't support a proposal unless both candidates also back it. She said there's a serious question over whether the state could legally verify the signatures of a privately run election.
"If this becomes something that we can't do, then we can't do it," Thurman said.
The Democratic Party is talking with the secretary of state's office about whether elections officials would be able to verify ballot signatures, but Republicans, who control the legislature, have opposed any state involvement and legal questions have been raised.
"The state of Florida should not be involved in certifying or mediating intraparty squabbles," said House Speaker Marco Rubio.
Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, however, has said he isn't opposed to the state helping verify signatures as long as no taxpayer money is spent and state and national parties haven't already worked out another solution.
The Justice Department would have to pre-approve any plan for a re-vote in Michigan or Florida to ensure that voting rights aren't being denied because of race or an inability to speak English. The department has 60 days to make a determination, but Justice spokesman Peter Carr said they provide expedited review whenever possible.
Officials at the Democratic National Committee said they don't foresee any problem with the Bush administration reviewing the Democratic plans. The Florida Democratic Party also expressed confidence that it won't be a significant hurdle to its vote-by-mail proposal.
"Fortunately, this is a very inclusive process, and we will file the appropriate paperwork," the party said in a statement, also noting that ballots in Florida will be printed in English, Spanish and Creole.
Clinton won Florida and Michigan, although she was the only major candidate on the ballot in Michigan.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean told CNN that he was in Florida Wednesday and has been calling members of the congressional delegation to encourage them to cooperate. He said he'd like to find a way to seat the Florida and Michigan delegates and not leave the issue until the convention.
"The best option is whatever we can get the candidates to agree with, which puts a vote back in the hands of the people of Florida and Michigan. And that's going to be not so easy to do," Dean said.
Obama told reporters traveling on his campaign plane Thursday that although he has concerns about mail-in voting, "we're going to abide by whatever the DNC decides."
"We're not gonna make the final decision on it, and I'll abide by whatever rules the DNC lays out," he said.
Obama's national co-chairman, former Sen. Tom Daschle, said it wasn't a good idea.
"For a lot of reasons, I think that it's not going to be a plan that will be adopted," Daschle said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The Clinton campaign made it clear that it strongly prefers a state-run primary to mail-in voting during a meeting with Michigan Democrats Thursday, according to a campaign official speaking anonymously about the private talks. People involved in the private meeting said the Clinton advisers favor the state-run primary because there would be less likelihood of problems such as fraud and ballot counting than with a mail-in vote.
Four Michigan Democratic leaders uncommitted to either candidate discussed options for a do-over Thursday with both the Clinton and Obama campaign leaders. Democratic National Committee member Debbie Dingell, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Sen. Carl Levin and United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger are in that group trying to develop a new plan with input from both sides.
Associated Press Writers Nedra Pickler and Charles Babington in Washington and Dennis Gale in Sioux Falls, S.D., contributed to this report.