Don’t Count Delegates Before They Are Hatched

News media, political pundits, and the candidates themselves make unwarranted assumptions as they report the number of delegate votes won to date by candidates for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.  They don’t know or they choose to ignore one of the Rules of the Republican Party which govern the nomination process this year.

That is Rule 15 (b)(2).

In a contested convention, which means that no candidate has arrived in Tampa with more than 1,144 uncontested delegate votes needed to win the nomination, Rule 15 (b) 2) would surely loom large, because that rule could determine who wins the convention.

Here is the wording of the rule:  “Any presidential primary, caucus, convention, or other meeting held for the purpose of selecting delegates to the national convention which occurs prior to the first day of April in the year in which the national convention is held, shall provide for the allocation of delegates on a proportional basis.”

Two states, Florida and Arizona, broke that rule and purported to hold winner-take-all presidential primaries.  Gov. Mitt Romney won only pluralities in Florida and Arizona.  All of the other states conformed to Rule 15 (b)(2).  After April 1, any state may hold a winner-take-all primary, and many states will do so.

Ultimately, the national convention itself has plenary power to enforce the rules, and the convention majority decides how to enforce them.  If no candidate has a clear majority of the uncontested delegate votes, enforcement of the rules could become the decisive issue of the convention.

Under the Rules of the Republican Party, here is how a contest of the purported winner-take-all primaries now would work.

It’s a four-step process.  First, residents of Florida or Arizona who were eligible to vote in their state’s presidential primary would file with the Secretary of the Republican National Committee a notice of contest.  The Republican National Committee’s Committee on Contests, composed of nine members, is required promptly to hear the matter, with written presentations from both sides of the controversy.  Then the RNC’s Committee on Contests must issue a report, which may settle the matter or result in an appeal to the entire Republican National Committee, which would meet and take up the issues raised in the contest.

Second, the Republican National Committee, composed of 168 members, three from each state and U.S. territory, would consider the contest and make its decision.

Third, an appeal of any decision of the RNC regarding the contest may be taken to the Convention Committee on Credentials, composed of 112 members, two Delegates from each state and territory.  The Credentials Committee would make its decision on the contest and incorporate that decision in the Credentials Committee report to the national convention as a whole.

Fourth, when the Credentials Committee report is presented to the entire convention for adoption, amendments are in order, provided that each amendment affects the delegation of no more than one state.  To pass, an amendment would require a majority vote of the convention, probably a roll call vote.

At any of these four steps, a remedy could be inserted to correct Florida’s and Arizona’s clear violations of the rules.  One possible but unlikely remedy would be to take away the two states’ remaining delegate votes.  (Florida and Arizona already lost half their delegates when they broke another section of the rules by holding their primaries earlier than the rules allowed.)  No serious presidential candidate would support that.

Or the remedy might be to invalidate the state laws and state party rules which require all the state’s delegate votes to be cast for the plurality winner of the state presidential primaries.  National party rules trump state law and state party rules.  That would leave those states’ delegates free to vote on the first ballot for whomever they personally choose to vote for.

Or the fairest remedy might be to impose a proportional allocation of the states’ delegate votes based on a proportionality formula common in those states which did follow the national rules this year.

Any likely remedy would reduce Gov. Romney’s delegate vote total and increase the delegate votes for other candidates.  In a closely divided convention, that could decide who wins the presidential nomination.

Of course, if one candidate comes to the Tampa convention with a substantial majority of uncontested delegate votes, that candidate could insist that the rules be ignored.  Predominant candidates tend to run everything at a national convention.



Morton Blackwell, the Virginia Republican National Committeeman, has served as a member of the Republican National Committee’s Standing Committee on Rules since 1988.  He is an uncommitted delegate to the 2012 national convention.

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