LANSING (AP) – A state Democratic party leader said yesterday that he expects more than 400,000 people to vote in February when Michigan Democrats pick their presidential favorite.

That wouldn’t be as many as the nearly half a million who voted for a Democratic favorite in 1992, the last time the state held a Democratic presidential primary. But it would double the roughly 200,000 people who voted in 1988, the previous record for a Michigan presidential caucus.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson won that year’s nomination.

Michigan Democratic Party Executive Chair Mark Brewer said he expects participation to be up in 2004 because so many candidates are in the race and Internet voting will be available for the first time.

Candidates will likely increase their campaigning to gain a share of the expected large turnout.

“We’re going to see campaign techniques we’ve never seen before,” Brewer said, during a news conference at state party headquarters.

It’s unclear how many of the 10 Democrats running will still be in the race when Michigan holds its party caucuses on Feb. 7. But Brewer said Michigan’s role as the first major industrial swing state to weigh in on the Democratic race is making it an important campaign stop.

“We’re seeing a lot of attention from the Democrats already,” he said.

Michigan will award 128 pledged delegates, more than any other state at that point in the process. The state also will send to the Democratic National Convention 23 superdelegates – elected leaders such as Gov. Jennifer Granholm – and two more delegates not pledged to a particular candidate.

There has been some disagreement within the party over the move to allow Internet voting.

Some state Democrats have filed a challenge with the Democratic National Committee and are awaiting a decision.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, one of the 10 Democrats running for president, said last week that the plan would give an advantage to voters who are wealthy enough to have a computer and Internet access.

Sharpton has challenged former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who has made wide use of the Internet to attract support and donations in his own presidential campaign, to stand with him. A Dean spokeswoman said last week that Dean’s campaign manager would contact Sharpton’s campaign to discuss the issue.

Brewer said he sees no problem with Internet voting, as long as voters also can participate in caucuses or mail in ballots. He points out that the DNC allowed Internet voting in Arizona’s primary in 2000, and a legal challenge to Internet voting in that election failed.

“An Internet-only caucus at this point in our history would be discriminatory,” Brewer said. “(But) we are not requiring anyone to vote over the Internet.”

He expects some candidates may set up places with computers and Internet access that Michigan supporters can use to vote electronically. Other candidates may focus their strategy on getting the most supporters to the caucuses, or on reaching voters who prefer to cast ballots by mail, he added.

For voters who don’t want to use the mail or the Internet, the Feb. 7 caucuses will be open to anyone willing to fill out a ballot after showing up at his or her designated caucus site – there will be more than 400 statewide – between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Ballots will be available in English, Spanish and Arabic.

To have their ballot count, participants must sign a public declaration that they are Democrats and are or will be registered voters before the November election. Their declaration remains with the Michigan Democratic Party and is not an official government election record.

Participants also can apply throughout January 2004 for an application to vote by mail or through the Internet. Those applicants must already be registered voters, and can vote as soon as they receive a ballot in the mail from the Michigan Democratic Party.

Brewer said safeguards will be in place to prevent people from voting more than once, such as through the mail and later at a caucus site.

Once the caucuses are over and the votes tallied, national convention delegates will be elected at Democratic conventions in April and May. The delegates will be divided among the presidential candidates according to the proportion of the vote each received on Feb. 7.

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