State Democrats hope to finalize by Thursday a ballot-by-mail proposal that would redo January's presidential primary election in early June and allow Republicans and independents to weigh in on the Democratic nomination.
The plan is still being developed and significant hurdles remain, not the least of which is strong opposition by the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, as well as the unified opposition of the nine Democrats in Florida's congressional delegation.
"All of the House members, Obama supporters, Clinton supporters, neutral, we are united in the fact that we know the mail-in vote is a bad idea. It's not well thought out," said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa, who hopes to bring in former Sen. Bob Graham to help broker a deal.
Sen. Bill Nelson, who is advocating the mail vote plan, met with his House colleagues for nearly two hours Tuesday evening and acknowledged afterward that nothing had changed.
"I'm still trying to get to a solution so that Florida voters will be heard," Nelson said, "and there is disagreement."
If Florida Democrats can come together on a plan, it would be submitted to the Democratic National Committee for approval. Nelson noted that DNC rules require a 30-day comment between the time a plan for seating delegates is submitted and the time when the party's rules committee votes on it, "so there'll be plenty of time to air this out."
More than 1.7-million Democrats voted in Florida's Jan. 29 primary that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton overwhelmingly won, but officially that result is meaningless because the DNC stripped away all of Florida's delegates as punishment for scheduling an early primary.
The Florida Democrats in Congress (four Clinton backers, two Obama supporters and three undecided) don't want any revote. Instead, they want to negotiate with the Obama and Clinton campaigns to find some agreement that would allow the Florida delegates to be counted.
Loads of questions remain about the mail-in idea, including whether private donors can raise nearly $10-million to pay for the ballots and postage as well as the deadline for voters to register as Democrats to participate.
Republicans who voted Jan. 29 would be ineligible to vote, but if they didn't already vote in the GOP primary, registered Republicans could change their party to Democratic and participate. Independents also would have to switch to the Democratic Party. Currently, registered Democrats wouldn't have to do anything.
"Our obligation is to build the vehicle. Whether or not it's got gas in it … is to be determined,'' said House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber of Miami. "I still think it's probably less than 50-50."
Skepticism has been most widespread among supporters of Obama, who could see his delegate lead over Clinton slip if delegates are reinstated to Florida, where Clinton beats him in polls.
Obama was one of three co-sponsors of the Vote by Mail Act of 2007 aimed at helping states move to mail voting, though the campaign's concerns about the Florida plan is how hastily it would be arranged.
Former state Sen. Les Miller of Tampa said that the party is ill-equipped to run such an election and that minority voters would likely see it as an election rigged to help Clinton.
"State party officials have little time to iron out details. The tentative schedule would have overseas military ballots sent by April 19 and all ballots due by June 3.
Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected]