2016 Delegate Selection-Part IV: The Republican Rules

In this, the final part of the series, we take a look at how the other side will be doing things for 2016.  The Republicans do things differently in several ways.  First, where the Democratic rules are several separate documents, the Republican rules are actually part of the basic rules of the Republican National Committee (with the rules for the convention being Rules 13-20.  Second, with limited exceptions (which happened in this cycle), the Republican rules are actually adopted at the last national convention.  (The Democrats draft the rules in the two years after the last convention).  Third, as noted, in the first post in the series, the Republicans actually have very few national rules (essentially eight basic rules) and mostly leave it to the state parties to make the important decisions that structure the selection process.

  Starting with the rules that have changed for this cycle, the most important Republican change for this cycle has been to its timing rules — or more specifically to the penalty for violating the timing rule.  For the second cycle in a row, the two parties have essentially cooperated on the timing of the start of the primaries (with an earlier convention, the Republicans are insisting on an earlier end to the selection of delegates — the second Saturday in June — which may cause problems for states with early June primaries).  Unlike the Democratic Party, which provides for a 50% penalty and gives the national party the option to impose a more serious penalty, the new Republican penalty provision (Rule 17(a)) cuts states to nine “non-automatic” delegates if they would have had 30 or more delegates before the penalty and to six “non-automatic” delegates if they would have had fewer than 30 delegates before the penalty.  Given that (as discussed below) each state has at least thirteen non-automatic delegates,  violation of the timing rule results in a penalty of 50% in the smallest delegations, and a loss of almost the entire delegation for larger delegations.

Another change to the rule is the rule on proportionality, the Republicans do not uniformly require proportionality.  Instead, (in a rule first adopted for 2012), the Republicans require the early primaries to be “sort of ” proportional.  Since 2012, the Republicans have modified this rule (Rule 16(c)(2 & 3) to change the cut-off date from April 1 to March 15.  Additionally, they have modified the penalty rules.  As in 2012, a state plan that violates the proportionality rule triggers a 50% penalty (Rule 17(a)), but the Rule now allows that national party to reallocate the remaining delegates in a proportional fashion (Rule 17(b)).    Unlike the Democrats that use strict proportionality for all candidates who get at least 15% of the vote state-wide or in a congressional district (Rule 16(c)(3), the Republicans allow the state party (in those states subject to the rule) to set the minimum vote (but no higher than 20%) and also allow the state party to allow a candidate to get all of the delegates (as long as that candidate got at least 50% of the vote).

The third change is a new rule that applies mainly to caucus/convention states (Rule 16(a)(1)).  In the past, many caucus states (e.g., Iowa) held a vote as part of the local caucus, but treated such a vote as non-binding with the state convention free to elect delegates without regard to presidential preference.  Under the new rule, any such vote must be used to award delegates just as the state-wide vote in a primary is used to award delegates.  (There remains an exception for states like Pennsylvania in which the delegates are directly elected by the voters on the primary ballot.)

There was a lot of discussion about giving presidential candidates the ability to remove delegates who violated their pledge of support.  Instead, the current version of the rule (Rule 16(a)(2) merely requires the secretary of the convention to disregard that change of support and to count the votes as required by the state law/rules binding the delegate.

For allocating delegates to the states, the rules (Rule 14) remain unchanged.  Each state gets a base of ten delegates plus three delegates for each congressional district.  States then get bonus delegates (1 each for having a Republican governor,  for each Republican U.S. Senator, for having a majority of the Congressional delegation, and for each state house with a Republican majority plus 40% of the state’s electoral vote if the State voted Republican).    While the calculation of the total state delegate includes both state-wide “at-large” delegates and congressional district delegates, the state party is not bound by this calculation in awarding delegates to candidates (but must follow them in electing the individual delegates — Rule 16(d)(9)).  In other words, a state can award all of its delegates based on a state-wide vote or otherwise increase or decrease the size awarded based on the vote in each congressional district.  Each state also has three automatic delegates — the state chair and both state members of the Republican national committee (Rule 14(2)).  It should be noted that — unlike the Democratic party’s penalty provision in which the DNC members lose their automatic slot if their state is penalized — the RNC members and the state chair keep their seats even if the state party is penalized.  As with the Democratic Party, Rule 14 also allocates delegates to the territories but does not allocate any delegates to Republicans Abroad.

For electing delegates, the default Republican process is by congressional and state conventions (except where otherwise provided by state law or state party rule).  Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans do not require gender balance and merely urge the state parties to endeavor to have gender balance with no mention of striving to include minorities or the young (Rule 15 (d & e)).

Finally, the Republican do not require pre-approval of any state rules for delegate selection, and only require that they be forwarded to the RNC by the October before the start of the primary (Rule 16(f)).

The variations permitted by the Republican party — specifically giving states discretion on the split between Congressional and state-wide delegates for the purpose of awarding delegates, giving states discretion on whether to allow a candidate with 50% (in a primary/caucus held before March 15) to win all of the delegates, giving states (starting on March 15) the discretion to award all delegates to a candidate with a simple plurality — results in a wide-variety of state rules for awarding delegates.  On the Democratic side, two candidates with roughly the same support nationally should end up neck and neck in delegates (as happened in 2008).  On the Republican side, it really matters what states you do well in.   Winning 51% to 49% in a state that hasn’t adopted the 50% rule will not get you any significant margin in delegates, but doing so in a state that awards all of the delegates state-wide and has adopted that rule can get you a 70-80 delegate advantage (or more).    Come January, when it is clear which candidates have survived the “informal” primary to actually get a chance to go to the voters, which states are going when, and what the rules in each of the states will be, it may be clear if any candidates have a built-in advantage from the state party rules.

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