Michigan and Florida Broke the Rules; Don’t Bail Them Out

Calling for a revote of the Democratic primary elections in Michigan and Florida seems like a perfectly reasonable proposal. The contest between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is unbelievably close; the primaries that were held (with only one major candidate on the ballot in Michigan and no campaign in either) have utterly no legitimacy; and voters in these two key states otherwise would have no opportunity to weigh in on whom the Democrats should offer as their nominee.

But the costs of revotes would outweigh the benefits:

* First is the problem of moral hazard. Bailing out the state officials in Michigan and the compliant Democrats in Florida who brazenly defied national party committee rules governing the scheduling of primaries and caucuses threaten to render toothless the authority of the national parties (affirmed as constitutional by the Supreme Court) to bring some coherence to an increasingly anarchic nominating process.

* Second, with both states refusing to shoulder the responsibility to administer and pay for new primary elections, the burden would fall upon two state Democratic parties that simply are not up to the task. A botched mail-in election in Florida would be the worst possible outcome. A failure to raise the requisite millions of dollars in voluntary contributions could force a disastrous cancellation of any new presidential contest in either Florida or Michigan.

* Third, revotes would directly and transparently affect the prospects of Clinton and Obama. New rules should be crafted under a “veil of ignorance.” Why should the candidate harmed by this late rules change lend support to it when both candidates raised no objection to the ruling of the Democratic National Committee not to seat the delegations and agreed not to campaign in either state?

It’s just as well the revote plans are dead or dying. Florida and Michigan Democratic leaders will have to face the reality that their actions have consequences. The best they can do now is try to negotiate some roughly equal allocation of a reduced number of delegates between the two candidates.