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Suit: Dems Stripping Votes From ... Dems

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In a "monumental irony," the Democratic Party is violating the Constitution and federal law by stripping 4 million Floridians of their right to vote in the presidential primary, says a lawsuit.

Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Alcee Hastings plan to file the suit Thursday, CBS News Radio correspondent Peter King reports.

The suit will claim that the Democratic National Committee did not have the right to take away Florida's presidential delegates just because Republicans set the primary for Jan. 29 in violation of DNC rules. It will also say presidential candidates were pressured into boycotting the state, which takes away voters' rights to engage the candidates on issues important to them, according to a draft copy obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.

It will name the DNC and its chairman, Howard Dean, as defendants. Nelson and Hastings, both Florida Democrats, scheduled a press conference Thursday morning to discuss the suit once it's filed.

"The defendants have combined to create a Presidential primary election with a stunningly anti-democratic scenario - every one of the more than 4.25 million registered Democratic voters in Florida will be completely disenfranchised," it says. "Their constitutional rights with respect to that election will be rendered meaningless."

The draft, which was being circulated among congressional staffers and legal experts Wednesday, details how Democrats rallied around voter rights issues after the 2000 presidential recount, in which President Bush won Florida by 527 votes, capturing the White House. Democrats claimed that thousands of votes went uncounted and that Vice President Al Gore would have won.

"In the aftermath of the shattering events of 2000, Democrats here and around the country have made continued efforts to assure that every vote counts," the draft says. "It is thus truly a monumental irony for the Democratic National Committee to issue a decree that no Florida Democrats' vote will count."

The suit will also name Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning, saying he is going ahead with plans for the Jan. 29 primary knowing that the vote will not result in delegates being selected for the national convention.

DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney said the organization doesn't comment on litigation and that she had not seen the claims in the suit.

"It's disappointing that after months of trying to resolve the situation and bring Florida into compliance these two have chosen this path," she said.

A spokesman for Browning declined comment.

Democratic Party rules say states cannot hold their 2008 primary contests before Feb. 5, except for Iowa on Jan. 14, Nevada on Jan. 19, New Hampshire on Jan. 22 and South Carolina on Jan. 29. Michigan has scheduled a Jan. 15 primary. Florida Republicans could lose half their 114 delegates for violating similar national party rules.

Florida's Republican-led Legislature and Republican Gov. Charlie Crist set the primary date. Democrats say their efforts to set it at Feb. 5 were ignored. While other delegate selection plans were considered, such as caucuses held on or after Feb. 5, state Democratic leaders decided that the statewide election was the best way to allow people to participate.

The DNC's decision to take away all 210 delegates and the pressure on presidential candidates not to publicly campaign in Florida will hurt the party's chances of winning the general election in November, the draft suit says.

"Presidential campaigning in Florida will be a Republicans-only process during the critical stage of the campaign," it says.

"Punishing an innocent electorate, demoralizing Florida Democrats, disrupting their organizational efforts, and minimizing the visibility of the future nominee to the people of Florida could, if anything, be harmful to the Democrats' hopes of winning this pivotal state."

Nelson's office would not comment on details of the suit, saying the senator will speak on it Thursday. Hastings' office also declined to talk about specifics, but spokesman David Goldenberg said, "We cannot and will not sit idly by and risk disenfranchising over 4 million Democratic voters."