Florida Democratic Party Accused of Misleading Members to Hand Biden the Primary

Vote to choose primary ballot candidates wasn't listed on party's meeting agenda

Democratic presidential candidates Cenk Uygur, TYT's CEO; Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN); and author Marianne Williamson, appearing on TYT in a forum moderated by TYT Damage Control host John Iadarola.



Florida Democratic Party leaders killed next year’s presidential primary and handed all the state party delegates to Pres. Joe Biden by keeping the party in the dark about an October vote concerning the primary ballot, some party members tell TYT.

The state party’s executive committee decided by unanimous voice vote on Oct. 29 to put only Biden on the ballot. Florida law says that when only one candidate is on a primary ballot, the primary is canceled.

The vote had not been listed on the October meeting’s agenda.

News of the vote led Biden’s three most visible challengers to object and threaten legal challenges. And Florida is just one of several state parties excluding the incumbent’s rivals, at a time when Democrats are running as defenders of democracy but polls show that most Democratic voters want an alternative to Biden.

Some Florida state party members tell TYT that Biden might have had at least one challenger, and the state might have had its March 19 presidential primary, if the membership had been notified that a vote on the matter was set to take place.

Instead, the vote caught many by surprise, including some attendees.

“I didn't think anything really of it until it was kind of over,” executive committee member Dakin Weekley told TYT, referring to the voice vote for Biden. “And then I was like, ‘Wait a second.’ Like, ‘What did we just do?’”

Some state party members may have skipped the executive committee meeting at the state party's convention entirely because they didn’t know about the vote. Executive committee member Nadia Ahmad, also a member of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), told TYT that she left the convention early because she believed there was only one “substantive thing” going on, unrelated to the presidential primary ballot.

Weekley likened the executive committee meeting to a pep rally. He said the significance of what had taken place became obvious only after the fact. “It was clear that it was a vote, but not, I didn’t think, clear that it was more than just an affirmation to build enthusiasm,” said Weekley via text.

Ahmad and other party members blame the executive committee meeting’s agenda, which was sent to members beforehand but didn’t explicitly list the vote as an agenda item.

A photo of the agenda obtained by TYT shows that it listed “Candidates for Presidential Primary Ballot” as an item, but didn’t say there would be a vote to determine candidates for the ballot. The agenda was emailed to members by FDP Secretary Casmore Shaw.

“If people knew the gravity of what that vote was, they would have taken it more seriously,” said Ahmad.

The agenda does list one vote: “DNC Member Vacancy Election.” But Ahmad said, “[T]there was more emphasis, more attention given to the election of the state party chair than there was on the election of the president in the state primary.”

The party email listing the agenda items also said that “important information on voting” would be emailed to members. It’s unclear whether that ever happened, and the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) did not respond to TYT’s request for comment.

Biden’s three primary challengers were also caught off guard by the vote. The presidential campaigns of Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN), TYT CEO Cenk Uygur, and author Marianne Williamson didn’t even learn of the October vote until Nov. 29.

Uygur campaign chief Kara Eastman told TYT that candidates had been led to understand they would have time to prepare and marshal support for the ballot vote, and that the FDP would name candidates for the ballot by Nov. 30.

“They say that they did this at the state convention. But they gave no notice that this decision would be made there and can point to no documentation of public notice that this meeting was going to be held for that purpose,” said Eastman via email.

She said that, “According to FL law, if there is only one name on a ballot, the election is canceled. So, they are saying the election is canceled and Biden won the election that didn't happen.”

FDP Chair Nikki Fried told Semafor ahead of the party’s state convention that the FDP hadn’t heard from Uygur, Williamson, or Phillips.

On Nov. 5, Fried released a statement saying, “Florida Democrats will launch the most important organizing effort since the Obama campaign [...] and reelect the Biden-Harris administration to finish the job.” But the statement did not mention the October vote or the fact that the March presidential primary would be canceled as a result.

Uygur’s campaign is now challenging FDP’s rules and bylaws regarding the decision to nix the presidential primary.

Williamson told TYT in a statement, “Our campaign has had discussions with the Florida Democratic Party. We are currently assessing our legal options regarding the legality of what has occurred.”

Phillips’ campaign did not respond to TYT’s request for comment, but in a statement to the Washington Post, Phillips said, “Americans would expect the absence of democracy in Tehran, not Tallahassee. [...] Our mission as Democrats is to defeat authoritarians, not become them.”

Phillips reportedly will file challenges with the DNC and the Florida, Tennessee, and North Carolina state parties. Tennessee and North Carolina have also decided to leave Biden’s challengers off their ballots.

Uygur has also been excluded from primary ballots in South Carolina, Nevada, and New Hampshire, according to Eastman.

Carolina Ampudia, president of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Broward County, said that normally a critical vote such as electing candidates for the presidential primary ballot would have been communicated well in advance of the meeting, which would give members time to plan and strategize.

“[W]e reached out to all the people that we had there [at the October meeting] and we're like, ‘Hey, what the hell? What happened? And why didn't you tell us so that we would be prepared?’” said Ampudia, a former member of the state party’s executive committee. “[T]hat's what we usually do. Like, if there's going to be something important we coordinate that so that those positions or those votes are never vacant.”

Following the executive committee’s vote, Ampudia and the heads of progressive caucuses for Miami-Dade and Duval Counties released a statement calling the October decision a “deviation from democratic norms” that violates the principles of the party and “erodes public trust” in the electoral system.

Ampudia is holding out hope that the state party’s decision to forgo the presidential primary can be corrected somehow to rebuild public trust. But she warns that if the plan sticks, it won’t bode well for the FDP or the Democratic Party as a whole.

“[I]f we don't revert that [decision] and it just gets public that we're deciding who gets on the ballot, then even me [...] I'm a pretty involved Democrat – I don't even see myself participating anymore because you know, this is rigged,” said Ampudia.

Editor's note: TYT CEO Cenk Uygur has recused himself from oversight of TYT's original reporting for the duration of his presidential campaign.

Candice Cole is TYT’s Washington correspondent. You can find her on Twitter @CandiceColeNews.