BOCA RATON — Hillary Rodham Clinton made an impassioned speech Wednesday to a crowd of about 500 mostly elderly Democrats, calling for disqualified primary results in Florida and Michigan to be counted
"If we fail to do so, I worry that we will pay not only a moral cost but a political cost as well," she said at Century Village in Boca Raton, warning that the GOP would be able to exploit the issue in November. "We know the path to the White House runs right through Florida and Michigan.
"If we care about winning those states in November, we need to count those votes."
Clinton devoted her entire speech to the vote-counting issue, stressing how voting rights were "a core mission" of the Democratic party, and a fundamental principle of American democracy.
The Clinton campaign could not have chosen a better place to raise the issue of counting votes than Century Village, the first of three South Florida stops Wednesday. In November 2000, the sprawling condo complex of about 10,000 residents was one of the voting places worst affected by the "butterfly ballot" fiasco in Palm Beach County. Many elderly voters ended up voting accidentally for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan.
"Here in Florida you learned the hard way when your votes aren't counted and the candidate with the fewer votes is declared the winner," she said. The lesson was "crystal clear," she added: "Our democracy is diminished."
She went on to compare the decision in Florida not to count the disputed ballots in 2000 with the current debate over the 2008 primary results. "The votes should not be thrown away on a technicality," she said.
Counting votes in the primary was "just as important" as votes cast on election day in November, she said. Clinton sought to cast the issue in the most profound moral terms, saying each vote cast is a "prayer for our nation."
Clinton did not provide any new solution to the primary disputes in Florida and Michigan, whose delegates were stripped by the national party for scheduling their primaries too early. She said not counting Michigan and Florida would violate "a central governing rule of this country."
The party's rules and bylaws committee is due to take up the issue at a May 31 meeting in Washington, D.C. Clinton urged supporters to join a petition on her Web site, demanding that the party revise its decision.
Clinton's remarks were greeted with loud applause and a chorus of "Count the votes!"
"If Obama gets in, I'm done," said Sheila Levins, 69, a longtime Democratic party activist. "If Hillary is not nominated, I am voting Republican, and all my friends feel the same way."
Levins said she was upset by the party's handling of the primary, while also blaming the media for being too hard on Clinton.
But not everyone in the crowd was so unhappy.
"My vote is for Obama," said Ruth Bland, 80. "I feel that he has the most potential, the good things, and the new things, and I want to give him a chance," she added in a hushed voice. "There's a woman over there says I shouldn't be here and wants me to leave."
David Adams can be reached at [email protected]