Is “one county, one vote” really a credible idea for Florida Democrats?

donkeyRules reform is a necessary component of making the Florida Democratic Party more viable as a functioning institution. FDP Chairwoman Allison Tant is correct when she and those around her push for changes in the rules and the breakup of the fiefdoms that have dominated the internal workings of the State Committee through the years. This is because it has been years since the State Committee has effectively done its job.

However, a proposed solution that has leaked via multiple channels to us that could be recommended by the LEAD Task Force among other party committees is simply not an acceptable remedy. This solution, a “one county, one vote” system would be a colossal mistake. Proponents of this idea have attempted link the current county weighted vote system to the poor electoral performance of Democrats. Floating this idea is at best cynical and at worst simply dishonest. No reasonable correlation can be made between county weighted votes and the poor performance of Democrats in smaller counties.

We will get back to the proposed “one county, one vote” theory in minute, but first off it should be stated that proposed ideas such as electing committee people by State House District, or keeping vote weights but requiring counties with over 15 weighted voted to elect multiple state committeemen and women should be strongly considered. The push back on this is that a larger body where power is further diluted benefits the elites and consultants whose stewardship have led Florida Democrats to a point of near oblivion in state politics. But we will consider those proposals another time.

One county, one vote is being pushed by proponents in a cleverly orchestrated whisper campaign as an egalitarian measure. However, it’s difficult once you look at reality to view this as anything but a power grab by Tallahassee insiders. The argument that fiefdoms dominated by white men on the State Committee is a problem is valid – but a solution that slants voting power and decision making authority even further into the hands of Tallahassee-oriented types should be avoided at all costs.

The fundamental problem with one county – one vote is that it shifts the power within the State Committee and hence the Democratic Party away from areas that have a large number of voters and toward North Florida which can be easily controlled and manipulated from Tallahassee. President Obama won just 12 counties statewide in 2012 (losing 55 counties) yet carried the state and won Florida’s 29 electoral votes. This proposal would also dilute the influence of the types of places Democrats need to start performing better – populated counties like Volusia, Marion, Lake, Polk and Brevard where the Republicans are building their margins in statewide elections.

Many based in Tallahassee both among Democratic-party insiders and journalists have floated an idea that Republicans win statewide elections because of the small counties along I-10. The reality is that the Republicans win statewide elections because of performance in medium sized counties along I-75.  Democrats must engage more in these counties which part of the reason the idea of allocating State Committee members by State House districts is so appealing to me – however we will save that conversation for another day.

While the Florida Democratic Party of 2015 is not the FDP of 1965, a certain element of pork chop lore goes with any proposal to centralize power in Tallahassee or rural North Florida counties. For those not familiar with the Pork Chop Gang, prior to 1967, State House members were elected by county and State Senate districts were malapportioned to favor North Florida. Governor Leroy Collins, attempted to push through reapportionment in the late 1950’s but was shot down.

From the early 1950’s until the 1967 court-mandated reapportionment, political power in the legislature rested squarely in North Florida, even though 45% of the population of the state lived in either the Miami or Tampa Metropolitan areas in 1960. The Tampa and Miami areas had 45% of the population but only 8% of the legislative seats at the time. The leadership of the legislature was hostile to urban interests, The St Pete Times, The Miami Herald and any sort of civil rights legislation. Even after reapportionment, the most powerful legislator in the 1970’s and early 1980’s was Senator Dempsey Barron (D-Panama City), who despite being pro-Civil Rights was a hard line conservative on just about every other issue. Barron clashed with Governors Reubin Askew and Bob Graham regularly and kept political power outside the urban areas as best he could.

Consider for a moment that Liberty County which is west of Tallahassee and borders the Apalachicola River cast just 942 ballots for President Obama in his 2012 reelection. Broward County, in southeast Florida cast 507,430 votes for the President in 2012. Yet under this proposed FDP formula the two counties would be considered equal on the State Committee. Even the current weighted vote where Broward’s committee people have 58 votes compared to Liberty’s one could be seen as favorable to the smaller county based on electoral performance and population. Lafayette in the Big Bend region recorded just 687 votes for President Obama while Dade County recorded 540,776 votes for the President. Yet both Lafayette and Dade in theory would have the same weight under this idea.

Areas with large numbers of Hispanics will have less representation in any one county, one vote scheme. Hispanics in this state are centralized in large urban counties and in second-tier counties like Polk and Volusia.  African-American populations are high in the Panhandle and many DEC leaders from smaller counties are African-American. However, it can be argued the dilution of voting power in urban counties would also hurt African-American interests within the party. That subject is debatable, however.

One person/one vote is a principle that has governed electoral politics since the Warren Court decisions of the 1960’s. The Democratic Party being the progressive force for change in the state would be in fact turning its back on anything resembling one person/one vote with this idea. This proposal would centralize power in and around Tallahassee making it easier for party insiders, vendors and consultants to control the decision making process. This reinforces the North Florida comfort zone for many involved in the party and minimizes not only the impact of large urban counties but the places party operatives drive through and past on the Interstate in order to get to the big cities. These “drive-through counties” are the very places where Florida Democrats MUST do better electorally to have any chance to flip the state. 

A theory has been floated that DEC leaders in smaller counties might work less hard during election cycles because they don’t have a stake in state committee decisions. Quite frankly if this is the case, we don’t need those sorts of people involved in politics. The motivation for anyone who works at an activist level in the Democratic Party should be to promote progressive or center-left ideals and candidates. Having influence within the state party should not a be a motivating factor for someone to get involved at a local level. Besides, every county in this state has lots of localized elections where DEC’s can make a difference and all too often do not.

As we’ve stated above, Chairwoman Allison Tant is correct in pushing to break up entrenched fiefdoms in the party. She deserves support in those efforts. But quite frankly keeping the current system would be preferable to a “one county, one vote” scheme that resembles a naked power grab by those in North Florida and Tallahassee, and would effectively relegate urban and medium sized counties influence within the party. The 1960’s FDP wants this proposal back, because since then the party has made every effort to mirror the sentiments and population distribution across the state. If this idea were adopted it would prove in time  to be a major step backward.

37 comments

  1. Blue Dog Dem · · Reply

    Hogwash. Why don’t we just have ten counties and be done with it?

    This would be the fairest system and the RPOF does it this way!

  2. Bruce Borkosky · · Reply

    doesn’t really matter who votes, or who has power. If the system does not encourage the DEC’s to work the field on a monthly basis, then nothing will change

    1. yep, probably the case sadly.

  3. The future · · Reply

    Spot on! 31 counties between Pensacola and Ocala minus Duval could almost control the party. Total population of those counties is about 10% of the statewide total but would be 46% of the state committee.

  4. Beat Jeb Bush · · Reply

    Unfortunately some in urban counties are hoping for this sort of proposal to happen so they win local power battles and gain favor with the Tallahassee crowd. Still I think it’ll fail. But the LEAD members are talking it up as an idea.

  5. Get a clue · · Reply

    The DECs in North Florida work hard and deserve this reform. Right now they don’t matter – how is that fair?

  6. Tampa Bay Demo · · Reply

    Really well argued here. You hit it on the head perfectly. I would take issue with the idea of House districts though.

  7. This rules thing has been a desperate attempt by failed party leaders to shift the narrative away from the responsibility of a bear for continued election losses.

    I completely agree with this article. One county one vote would centralize power in Tallahassee with the party staff and with the vendors and consultants who ruined this party to begin with.

    Leave it to Florida Democrats the losing party anywhere to take an election loss trying to spin it in a way to give themselves more power after they feel miserably. Only in Florida and only among Democrats.

  8. This is a bad idea. But I’m told it’s going to be recommended. Or at least an option.

  9. Hank Porter · · Reply

    This is not a serious idea and no one is pushing this. This is not an idea that has traction on the LEAD Committee. If anything, it seems to be a disinformation campaign to undermine the work of reformers.

  10. Tampa Bay Demo · · Reply

    Hank it is been actively discussed. It’s probably DOA because of the backlash including this article but to pretend like it hasn’t been discussed openly and actively by its proponents would be disinformation in itself.

  11. Tampa Bay Demo · · Reply

    I also await anxiously Kartik’s rationalization for the house district idea. How will you justify placing most of our committee members in areas that select Republicans? It’s not as bad as one county one vote but it’s pretty bad also.

    1. Bruce Borkosky · · Reply

      I actually think that a one-vote-per-FL-house-district is a good idea. That way, the Democrats across the state are represented equally (4.5m dems / 120 districts = ~38k dems per vote). It would also have the effect of reducing the power of the big counties – yes, the total number of votes out of that area would still be the same, but there would no longer be a huge disparity between voters. This also would take power out of the hands of the individual DEC’s, because they would not control who gets those positions, and many individual reps would be answering to multiple counties. Lastly, it would have the effect of increased diversity / sharing power. Instead of ~10 people who, by their votes, control the state, you now have 120 people who share power equally.

      1. I like some variation of the House districts plan as well. Stay tuned!

    2. I will explain that in the near future. I like the House District idea.

  12. Tampa Bay Demo · · Reply

    One more point. Any kind of reform empowers the Tallahassee crowd. Kartik may not want to believe that but the state committee members that have been around for a while are the ones who understand how to work the process and work around party staff party consultants & vendors. The only thing stopping us from being worse. I wish you would actually realize this instead of advocating for this phony reform. You have done well with this post but by supporting any of these reforms matters will be made worse. You’re doing more damage than good writing about rules changes. Taking the side of the people who put us in this mess.

  13. Jacob Eaton · · Reply

    Time to fire Tant. Her own DEC has only 1 African American elected to Steering committee. In a county that is 40% African American.

  14. Jacob Eaton · · Reply

    This is a blatant naked power grab that’s all call it what it is.

  15. Fla Dem · · Reply

    Some inside info – This is an idea that is being talked about among about two or three other proposals. This proposal is by no means the recommendation that will come from the committee but it is being discussed.

    The premise is how can you have a committee of members where one members vote counts 59 times as many times as another members vote? That in itself is not democracy.

    Some of the points that have been made in this blog are the reasons internally not everybody is thrilled with this idea.

    I keep myself under the cloud of anonymity but I am very connected to the Florida party as you might suspect from my previous comments. This idea it is being considered but may very well be shelved. So don’t panic yet those of you who are against it.

    Those of you supporting the current waited volt system will be disappointed because there will be some attempt to change it as there should be. I think even the author here agrees with us on that.

    1. I understand if you cannot reveal this, but what are the other proposals besides this and State House districts or keeping current weights?

  16. get over it · · Reply

    Not a bad idea actually. It’ll increase the percentage of votes controlled by African-Americans because of the number of African-Americans that are committee people from small counties.

  17. This idea isn’t that far fetched. Elected officials which tend to be from the urban counties will be given greater weight on their votes potentially balancing it out. Dade and Broward will still have the most influence.

    While the current state committee man and woman from most of the urban counties oppose this there are a lot of party leaders within local parties and elected officials also in the big counties that support this sort of reform. The attempts here to cast it as an urban versus rural thing inject race into to the argument is cynical to use your own words. You are trying to start a race war here when in fact this is a reasonable proposal and the direction we must go to ensure fundamental fairness.

  18. Blue Dog Dem · · Reply

    Electing by county without a weighted vote is the fairest method hands down.

    1. I keep hearing this, but how do you reconcile counties with less than a 1,000 Obama votes having the same weight as counties with more than 500,000 Obama votes?

  19. I understand the argument that this is the fairest system but the problem is it ships power away from places that actually vote for Democrats. That’s the biggest concern I have.

  20. Contrary to popular belief there are some connected party people in Irvine counties pushing for this idea. But it is ridiculous. It is stupid. Whoever claimed it’s dead on arrival is wrong. I’m hearing a lot of chatter about this idea. Will it ultimately pass? Probably not but the fact that enough people are behind it and think it’s a solution means even if it doesn’t get enacted now it could be resurrected sometime before the next election.

    1. I don’t know if it is DOA or not…I hear both things honestly. I know a push is happening for this, but it seems opposition is rising to the forefront also.

  21. Doug Head · · Reply

    At one point, we moved toward realizing that the real battles are in the suburbs, neither the huge Counties (the big seven), nor the (40 or so) tiny Counties. There is a real need to get representation from those Counties (in suburbia – about 20) which don’t really get a voice. That is where the future lies. We have a “small county caucus”, which represents about 15% of voters state-wide. We have big Counties who represent about 42% of the voters and swap votes; and we have medium counties which are also about 42% of the voters. Lets recognize these realities. Then the problem will be to get people who represent more than their local voice and personal interest.

    1. Well said Doug…exactly right!

  22. get over it · · Reply

    House Districts illogical. Then small counties would have no representation.

    1. Bruce Borkosky · · Reply

      if the voting is changed to one-vote-per-FL-house-district, then no counties would have representation. Instead, representation would be by house district. If you look at the map, on average, the number of votes, on average, ‘per county’, would remain the same. The only difference is that the larger ‘small’ counties would have more votes (because they have more districts in their county), and the smaller ‘small’ counties would have fewer. For example, Escambia county would get 2 votes, because it has districts 1 and 2, whereas Santa Rosa would have approximately 3/4 of a vote, because part of district 3 is in Okalooosa. If your idea of fairness is ‘one voter, one vote’, then this would be even more fair than the current system, for 2 reasons:
      1. the number of dems per representative more closely approximates the actual numbers
      2. you’d remove the possibility for a very few people to have huge numbers of votes, possibly overruling majority opinion

      Besides, it may encourage county DEC’s to work together to find candidates and elect them to the FL house. Heck, why we’re at it, why not add votes per FL senate district? Another 40 votes wouldn’t be outrageous.

  23. Hank Porter · · Reply

    Another dynamic that might be interesting about the ‘State Committee people running from within House seats’ is that could incentivize committee people to advocate for and support specific districts and candidates. It would have a much more direct connection between candidate recruitment, allocation of resources and party leadership, at least in House races.

  24. […] week, we ran a story that was well read and circulated about the potential rules reforms within The Florida Democratic […]

  25. wvayens · · Reply

    The biggest problem with a one vote per county system is that it would be blatantly racist.

    Currently white voters represent 52% of registered Democrats. Under a 1 vote per county system, they would effectively represent 67% of the voting power.

    1. Bruce Borkosky · · Reply

      good point, wvayens. Probably not racist, but discriminatory, for sure

  26. […] the task force but probably from party insiders has motivated the continued promotion of “one county, one vote.” In fact we have learned some of the push for a complete overhaul of the rules have actually […]

  27. […] implement a system reminiscent of the 1950’s and 1960’s legislature to govern the party just a few short months ago. While Democrats often stand on principle, reapportionment fights have often taught us that most […]

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