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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Seating Florida’s and Michigan’s Delegates

Q: What’s going on with Florida’s and Michigan’s delegates to the Democratic convention?

A: The DNC rules committee will meet May 31 to come up with a solution to seating the delegates.


I was wondering if you could you do an article concerning the debate surrounding Florida and Michigan? Was it really the GOP’s fault that the primaries were moved up? Is Obama actually blocking giving people there a vote? What is the rationality behind each campaign’s proposal behind how the votes should (or should not) be counted? Is there some basis for considering what is fair? Thanks for listening.


Florida and Michigan scoffed at Democratic and GOP rules this year that called for the states to hold their primaries on Feb. 5 or later. Voters instead went to the polls in January. As a result, the Democratic National Committee followed through on its threat to take away both states’ delegates to the national convention. The GOP banned half of the states’ delegates from its convention.

Both Clinton and Obama pledged not to campaign in those states, and Obama’s name was not on the ballot in Michigan. But, once the race became an oh-so-tight contest, Clinton – who won both the Florida and Michigan contests – called for the delegates from the two states to be seated at the convention. The Clinton campaign also backed plans to have the two states hold their primaries, or some form of voting, again.

Her campaign charged that leaving the states out of the primary process meant they were “disenfranchised,” and she called for Obama to join her in “supporting the rights of the people of Michigan and Florida to have their voices and their votes counted.”

Meanwhile, some charged that the DNC was being unfair, saying that Republicans, not the state Democratic parties, should be blamed for shifting the states’ primaries. The criticism stems from the fact that Florida’s Legislature is Republican-controlled, and its governor, which signed a bill to hold the primary in January, is Republican. But the bill passed the House unanimously, and the Democratic Party in the state said it would stick with the early primary, despite the DNC’s sanctions. In Michigan, the bill to move up the primary was first approved by the Republican-controlled Senate, but the idea was backed by many Democrats there, including Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Democratic U.S. Sen. Carl Levin.

Despite some support for a do-over election, neither state decided to have one. But now the DNC may backtrack on its promise to ban the delegates – or at least modify its stance in some way that would still amount to some form of punishment but appease voters, the candidates and other states that played by the rules. The DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee will meet May 31, and there are various courses of action it could take:

  • The Clinton Outcome. Seat the delegates according to the primary votes. Clinton beat Obama 50 percent to 33 percent in Florida, and she won Michigan’s primary with 55 percent of the vote. (Forty percent voted "uncommitted.") The two states have 313 pledged delegates, plus 53 or so superdelegates (who would be free to back their candidate of choice). As we’ve written before, there is no official delegate count and estimates vary among the news organizations that try to keep track. But whatever the calculation, Clinton gets more votes under this scenario. The Associated Press says that Clinton would gain 178 delegates; Obama would get 67. The New York Times says Clinton would net 47 delegates. However, this plan would mean a complete reversal of the DNC’s tough stance. The AP interviewed a third of the 30-member rules committee and found they widely agreed the states should still face a penalty.
  • The 50-50 Split. The party could give half of the states’ delegate count to Clinton and half to Obama.
  • The Combo Deal. The Michigan Democratic Party has proposed an uneven split that would give Clinton more delegates, but not as many as she would get based on the primary vote.
  • The Sounds-Fair-to-Me Option. The DNC committee can seat or not seat the delegates any old way it sees fit.

Of course, how to distribute the delegates may be a much less-heated decision by the time the committee meets at the end of the month. Obama could get the 2,026 delegates now needed to sew up the nomination. And Clinton needs more delegate support than what she would get from these banished ones. As the Associated Press wrote last week: "Michigan and Florida alone can’t save Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign."

Obama needs about 60 more delegates to secure the nomination, while Clinton needs about 245. Only Puerto Rico, Montana and South Dakota have yet to hold their primaries; about 210 superdelegates haven’t publicly pledged their support.

While behind in the delegate count, Clinton and her aides have argued she’s ahead in the popular vote, if the tally includes Michigan and Florida votes. That’s true, but there were no votes whatsoever for Obama in Michigan. Real Clear Politics maps out the popular vote totals under various circumstances, showing that Clinton leads by 57,000 votes, if the count includes Michigan and Florida and the site’s estimates for the caucus states of Iowa, Nevada, Maine and Washington, which haven’t released popular vote counts. Dropping Michigan from that total, puts Obama ahead by 271,000 votes. His lead in the popular vote more than doubles if Florida is also eliminated.

-Lori Robertson

Update, May 21 and May 23: We have changed the delegate and popular vote numbers in the final paragraphs to reflect the results of the primaries held May 20.

Update, June 2: On May 31, the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee decided that both Florida’s and Michigan’s delegations should be seated at the convention, but each delegate would only get half a vote. The committee approved the plan proposed by Michigan’s Democratic Party, giving 34.5 delegate votes from that state to Clinton and 29.5 to Obama. For updated delegate counts for the candidates, see one of the tallies from media organizations, such as the Associated Press’


CNN. "No new primary for Florida Democrats." CNN.com, 18 Mar. 2008.

Broder, John M. "Michigan Lawmakers Won’t Back a New Primary." New York Times, 21 Mar. 2008.

Pickler, Nedra. "Florida, Michigan cannot save Clinton." Associated Press, 16 May 2008.

Seelye, Katharine Q. "Party’s Rules Committee Has a Crucial Role in Clinton’s Hopes." New York Times, 15 May 2008.

Yen, Hope. "Clinton adviser argues for seating Michigan, Florida delegates after previously voting no." Associated Press, 17 Feb. 2008.

Bell, Dawson. "Early primary has its perks: Michigan parties eager to move vote to January." Detroit Free Press, 26 Aug. 2007.

Associated Press. "Florida lawmakers pass plan for January presidential primary," 3 May 2007.