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Page last updated at 19:49 GMT, Friday, 30 May 2008 20:49 UK

Q&A: Michigan and Florida delegates

A committee of US Democratic Party officials is meeting on 31 May in an attempt to resolve a long-running dispute over whether delegates from Florida and Michigan can take their seats - and select a presidential candidate - at the party's National Convention in September.

The meeting could have repercussions for the battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for the party's presidential nomination.

How many delegates are at stake in Michigan and Florida?

Michigan has 157 delegates, of whom 128 are "pledged" to vote at the convention according to the results of the state's primary election, and 29 are unpledged "super-delegates" - senior party officials who get a vote at the convention by virtue of their party position.

Florida has 211 delegates, of whom 185 are elected (pledged) delegates and 26 are super-delegates.

Who would benefit most if the delegates are seated at the convention?

Mrs Clinton.

In Michigan, Mrs Clinton won 73 of the 128 elected delegates in the disputed primary on 15 January. The other 55 were allocated to "uncommitted". Mr Obama's name was not on the ballot in Michigan, so many of his supporters voted for "uncommitted".

DELEGATES AT STAKE
Michigan delegates: overall 157; elected 128; super-delegates: 29
Florida delegates: overall 211; elected 185; super-delegates: 26

In Florida, according to the results of the state's 29 January primary, Mrs Clinton would pick up 105 delegates to Mr Obama's 80, if Mr Obama was given all 13 of the delegates won by John Edwards. (Mr Edwards was still in the race when Florida voted, but has now endorsed Mr Obama.)

So seating the Michigan and Florida delegations in full would give Mrs Clinton a net delegate boost of 43.

Would seating the delegates bring Mrs Clinton level with Mr Obama in the delegate race?

No - Mr Obama currently has a delegate lead of 202 over Mrs Clinton, with 1,984 delegates to her 1,782, according to Associated Press news agency projections (as of 30 May).

So what impact could it have?

Mr Obama can currently claim to have won an overall majority of the elected (pledged) delegates, but seating the Michigan and Florida delegates would leave him short of a majority.

This would allow Mrs Clinton more time to win endorsements from the remaining undecided super-delegates, who - because neither candidate could then win enough pledged delegates to secure the nomination - will effectively decide the nomination.

Seating the Michigan and Florida delegations would also give the Clinton campaign a better case for counting votes cast in these states when calculating the share of the popular vote won by each candidate. Mrs Clinton's chances of ending the primary season with a plausible claim to have won a majority of the popular vote would increase.

What options are the party officials considering?

They could opt to maintain the status quo and bar all delegates from Michigan and Florida from attending the convention.

They could also decide to overturn the ban and seat the delegations in full, according to the results of the disputed elections.

The final ruling is likely to fall somewhere in the middle.

Will they allocate Michigan's "uncommitted" delegates to Mr Obama?

Mr Obama was not the only candidate to have removed his name from the Michigan ballot, and the intentions of the "uncommitted" voters are now impossible to determine - they could have been supporting a candidate other than Mr Obama.

But given that two of the three other candidates who removed their names from the ballot have now endorsed Mr Obama, little protest is likely if the "uncommitted" delegates are allocated to Mr Obama.

Mrs Clinton has raised no objection.

What compromise options could the committee consider?

In Michigan, the Obama campaign is calling for the delegates to be split 50-50 between the two candidates, while the Clinton campaign is seeking to distribute the delegates 73-55.

One compromise suggestion has been to split the difference between these two positions, and allocate 69 delegates to Mrs Clinton and 59 to Mr Obama.

It has also been suggested that both states' delegations should be seated at half strength - either by making each delegate's vote count as a half, or by reducing the number of delegates for each state by 50%.

Could the decision have an impact on the general election in November?

Maybe.

The Clinton campaign argues that if the delegations are not seated, then voters in Michigan and Florida could become disenchanted with the Democratic Party.

Both states will be key general election battlegrounds, and apathy or defections among Democrats could hurt the party's chances.

According to a poll commissioned by Democratic leaders in Florida's state senate, only 63% of primary voters in the state would stick by their party's eventual nominee if the delegations are not seated.

Is the committee the only body that can solve the dispute?

No.

If the campaigns are able to agree a settlement - and it is acceptable to the Democratic National Committee and the Florida and Michigan Democratic parties - that is another way of solving the problem.

If the campaigns cannot agree, and the committee fails to reach a compromise on 31 May, then the issue could go to the Democratic Convention's Credentials Committee, which may not meet until July.

Ultimately, it could even become an issue on the floor of the convention itself.

Why were the delegates disqualified?

Democratic officials were keen to keep a strong grip on the party's primary timetable, so they laid down strict rules to ensure that four specially-chosen states - Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina - would be the first to hold presidential nominating contests.

Other states were permitted to hold their contests from 5 February onwards.

Michigan and Florida, however, opted to schedule their primaries before 5 February and were consequently punished by having their delegates struck off.

The candidates signed pledges not to campaign in the states. Nearly all of them removed their names from the ballot in Michigan - but not Mrs Clinton.

Why did Michigan and Florida schedule their contests early?

States that hold their contests early generally have more of an impact on the outcome of the nominating process.

Party officials brought in rules about the primary calendar precisely to prevent a "free-for-all", with every state scheduling its primary earlier than the rest in order to gain more sway.

Would Mrs Clinton have had a better chance of winning if Michigan and Florida had not broken the rules?

Almost certainly yes.

Florida and Michigan are both demographically similar to other states in which she performed well, so even if the candidates had been allowed to campaign freely, and if Mr Obama had been on the ballot in Michigan, the likelihood is that Mrs Clinton would have been victorious.

They could have given her some momentum when she badly needed it.

That said, her margin of victory would probably not have been as great as it was in the disputed ballots - which took place in the absence of a fully-fledged campaign from the lesser-known Mr Obama.


Electoral College votes

Winning post 270
Obama - Democrat
365
McCain - Republican
173
Select from the list below to view state level results.


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