Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Undemocratic Republican Primary Calendar

The fix might not be in, but the mechanics for making the fix are all in place.

Republican voters this Presidential cycle, do you think your vote counts? You might want to think again and consider the potential manipulations and shenanigans in your party's rules and voting schedule.

I won't lay out conspiracy theories here or pick the potential winners and losers of this system; you can do that yourself. This just lays out the rules and the calendar and you can work out how to manipulate this.

If you vote in the Democratic primaries for President, your vote will be counted proportionately for the candidate you’re voting for. So, if Clinton gets 50% in a state, Sanders 40%, and O’Malley 10%, Clinton will get 50% of the delegates for that state, Sanders 40%, O’Malley 10%. There are rounding issues here and there, but that’s basically the same rule for every Democratic contest.

Now, for the Republicans, instead there’s a weird quilt of rules about allocation of delegates based on the amount of votes they get in a caucus or primary as to whether they get delegates proportionally, if the winner by plurality gets all of them, who gets “bonus” delegates and at-large delegates assigned to the state delegation to the RNC convention, and so forth.

The bottom line is, your vote may count double, triple, or tenfold, or may not count at all, or may count proportionately. Whether it’s going to count or not has a lot to do with state party rules, which are set up basically so they can be manipulated around a party-favorite candidate.


For the first two weeks of March of 2016, the RNC requires sort of proportional representation of delegates - but leaves up specific rules about what the thresholds are to receive delegates on a state by state basis. They also allow states to set up a system to award at-large and bonus delegates (delegates given to a state because they have Republican elected officials at the state or federal level) as winner-take-all, either by Congressional district or statewide.

After March 14, state parties can set their delegation rules anyway they want. They can actually change the rules at any time; so one state could be winner-take-all, another could be strictly proportional, another could be proportional with thresholds for candidates to earn any delegates.

The intent of this latter rule was (ostensibly) to allow states to adopt winner-take-all rules once an apparent front-runner had started leading the field, so it would force everybody to effectively rally around the leading candidate. However, note that the flexibility in state by state rules allows each state party (run, by definition, by the Establishment) to basically pick their rules based on which candidate they want to earn delegates or be denied delegates based on the polling going into primary day.

Note also caucus rules are wildly variable; some caucuses have their own threshold requirements on a site-by-site basis (such as 15% of voters present must support a candidate to get a vote in the state totals, otherwise the voters are forced to caucus with another candidate) and the allocations of groups of votes can change by county, congressional district, or special district in the state. There’s so much room for shenanigans here it’s hard to describe in detail.

Here’s how this will play out (Republican calendar only):

States locked in to the semi-proportional format: * = caucus, otherwise a primary

February:  (basically one a week) 2/1 Iowa*, 2/9 NH, 2/20 SC, 2/23 NV.

(Washington caucuses are on 2/20, but their Presidential delegates are not selected at the caucus. It’s complicated but the bottom line is there are no delegates to go into the delegate count and thus affect the overall race.)


3/1 - Alabama, Alaska*, Arkansas, CO*, Georgia, MA, Minn*, ND*, OK, TN, TX, VT, VA, WY* (“Super Tuesday” this year)

3/5 - Kansas*, Louisiana, Maine*.

3/6 - Puerto Rico

3/8 - Hawaii*, Idaho, MI, Miss.

OK, so now we’re at the end of the enforced proportionality window and will have a “leader” in the delegate count.

States where the states can basically change the rules about delegate selections anytime, including winner-take-all:

3/15 - FLA, ILL, Missouri, NC, OH (<— actually more delegates to be awarded than “Super Tuesday”)

3/22 - AZ, UT*

4/4 - WI

4/19 - NY

4/26 - CT, DE, MD, PA, RI

5/3 - Indiana

5/10 - Neb, WV

5/17 - OR

5/24 - WA delegates actually selected

6/7 - CA, MT, NJ, NM, SD

6/28 - UT (delegates actually selected)