The Rules of the Convention: Part Four — Issues for the Convention

As discussed in the previous three parts (particularly part one and part three) of this series, the rules for the two conventions are currently simply a first draft set forth in the Rules of the Republican Party (on the Republican Side) and the Call for the Convention (on the Democratic side).  When the rules committees of the two conventions meet this summer before the conventions, they will need to decide what needs to be fixed for this convention and what can wait until after the convention.

On the Democratic side, this debate will be relatively simple.  In all likelihood, the candidate with the most pledged delegates will also have the most total delegates and will control the majority of the rules committee.  Given the input that candidates have on delegate selection, it is unlikely that the delegates would approve any rules changes that dramatically alter the business of the convention.  Additionally, the fact that both of the major candidates will have enough members on each of the committees to write a minority report will put a brake on any major rule changes.  While the general purpose of the rules is to manage the business of keeping the convention running smoothly, this balance of power on the Rules Committee tends to discourage attempts to use the rules to silence the trailing candidates at a Democratic Convention.   While there are certainly minor changes that people looking at the call might want to do, most of the Democratic debate about the convention involve things like unpledged party leader delegates that are not part of the rules of the convention.  The issue about whether to make any changes to the role of these super delegates are an issue for after the convention.

The same can’t be said about the Republicans — particularly if no candidate heads into Cleveland with more than 1,100 delegates.  In a contested convention, everything about the Republican rules will be open for discussion in the Rules Committee.

Saying that everything is up for discussion, however, does not mean that everything is likely to become a bone of contention.  What becomes significant depends upon the compositions of the delegations to the convention.  As noted in part two of this series, while the rules governing delegate selection (primarily Rule 16) supposedly  bind delegates to support specific candidates, the national rules leave the delegate selection process to the states without requiring the states to give the presidential candidates any input in the selection process.  Thus, you will almost certainly have delegates “pledged” to one candidate who actually support another.  Because the pledge only applies to the vote on the first ballot (although some states do bind the delegates for multiple ballots), a delegate is free to vote as they wish on the rules for the convention.   Additionally, the rules establishing the convention committees for the Republicans do not guarantee fair representation on the rules committee.

In short, this means that the number of pledged delegates that each candidate has means nothing in terms of the composition of the rules committee or how delegates will vote in any contested vote over proposed rule changes.  Given that literally anything is possible depending upon the composition of the rules committee, it is impossible to predict what the final rules will look like.  However, there are some obvious holes in the rules that could cause problems in a contested convention.  Those holes are likely to be the subject of some attempts to close them in a way that favors certain candidates.

First, Rule 16 (which is technically not part of the rules of the convention) defers to the state rules on binding.  While it states that delegates are bound, it does not say for how long or how a delegate can be released.  There is a good chance that some proposal will be filed to establish more uniform binding rules and to expressly create a mechanism by which withdrawn candidates can release delegates.  Both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz probably want a rule that will release Rubio (and other) delegates on the first ballot

Second, as just noted, while Rule 16 mandates that the Secretary record the vote in accordance with the binding pledges in the various states and further provides that attempts to sign affidavits of support for the purposes of Rule 40 will not count if in violation of a binding pledge, Rule 16 is not part of the rules of the convention.  It is likely that there will be some attempt to change Rule 40 (governing the support needed to place a candidate’s name before the convention and the roll call on the nomination) and perhaps Rule 37 (general roll call rule) to expressly incorporate Rule 16.

Third, as noted by Republican lawyer and election law guru Ben Ginsburg Tuesday night on MSNBC, Rule 40 requires the affirmative WRITTEN support of a majority of eight separate state/territorial delegations.  While Rule 16 requires the convention to disregard a delegates attempt to sign the wrong candidates pledge of support (wrong as in the sense of somebody other than the candidate that a delegate is supposed to support), nothing in the rules requires a delegate to sign any pledge of support.  If only one candidate gets enough written pledge of support, that candidate can be nominated by acclamation.  If I were Donald Trump, I want to do away with these written certificates and simply go by the results in the states (with pledges of support only needed for those states that do not bind delegates such as Pennsylvania and North Dakota) or in which there are uncommitted delegates that could get a candidate to a majority.

Fourth, the current language in Rule 40 requiring a majority of eight delegations is new (added in 2012).  If I am a candidate who did not get to eight delegations (probably John Kasich), I want a different rule.

Fifth, the current language in Rule 40 suggests that a candidates name must be submitted to the secretary of the convention at least one hour before the floor is open for the making of nominating speeches.  If the convention looks deadlocked, some in the party establishment might want to expressly provide that, if the convention recesses after multiple inconclusive ballots that the floor can be re-opened for new nominations.

Sixth, the combination of Rule 16 and Rule 40 suggests that delegates can vote for other candidates but that the secretary will only announce the votes given to candidates who have had nominating speeches.  It is likely that some will want to clarify this issue (i.e. can delegates vote for Rubio and Kasich).

Seventh, the rules suggest that — immediately upon conclusion of an unsuccessful roll call –the secretary is to announce the results and call the roll again.  If it is clear going in that there will be multiple ballots, the party establishment may want to expressly authorize the chair to declare a recess after a certain number of inconclusive ballots.  The current rules do incorporate Robert’s Rules of Order, so a motion for recess from the floor would probably be in order.  However,  it might help to allow for an automatic or semi-automatic recess.

Obviously, these are just general topics.  As the convention gets closer and specific proposals get floated, we may revisit this topic.  For now, the key point is that the temporary rules envision a convention at which the nomination is a settled matter and were designed to run things smoothly for the presumptive nominee.  If the convention looks like it is heading toward multiple ballot, the rules committee may see a need to clarify what the rules will be for later ballots.

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4 thoughts on “The Rules of the Convention: Part Four — Issues for the Convention

  1. DocJess

    I think that your “pick fave rule” is #16, but I’m all over #40 and I am fascinated to see whether or not they end up changing that or not. (Especially part B) — Every time I see the results of the “upstream” conventions, I see delegates switching to Ted because honestly he’s objectively got the best ground game of any campaign on any side this year. (So far, we’ll see if that lasts past the primaries as it may well not because that’s a different kind of campaign organization that requires money he doesn’t have). Anyway — both he and Donald have the 8 states, via the vote, no one else does. So to get Paul Ryan, Mittens Romney or anyone else nominated is disallowed without a change to 40B,

    That said, the acceptance of delegates under 16 may well make Cleveland look a lot like Tampa did in 2012. But my gut says that Ted will come in a lot stronger and that his delegates will be more likely to stick via multiple ballots.

  2. tmess2 Post author

    I think Trump will get to the eight, but, in light of Ginsburg’s comments, I am not that sure that he is currently at eight. Cruz is technically not at the eight yet, but should get there with Colorado and Wyoming.

    In theory, Trump is at eleven, but most of the states give the candidate little role in delegate selection. In Massachusetts, Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi, Trump is close enough to fifty percent that only a small number of Trump delegates would have to not sign the pledge of support to keep Trump below fifty percent. (Four delegates to spare in Georgia, zero delegates to spare in Massachusetts, four delegates to spare in Mississippi, and four delegates to spare in Tennessee.) While Rule 16 binds “Trump” delegates to vote for Trump and bars them from signing a pledge of support for other candidates, it does not require them to sign a pledge of support for Trump. I think Trump will get enough delegates from states still to vote (e.g., New Jersey) to make it impossible for pseudo-Trump delegates to block Trump from getting enough signatures in eight states, but it is still a potential game at the national convention.

  3. DocJess

    To the best of my knowledge, and I’m willing to be wrong about this, this 8 states are related to popular vote, or caucus-day outcomes NOT who gets the delegates. If memory serves, it came from the establishment GOP trying to stop Ron Paul independent of how many delegates he was able to accrue – so they made this straight “win” — do you have a different recollection?

  4. tmess2 Post author

    The binding rule (Rule 16) is how they connect delegates to wins for all states. In 2012, some states had binding rules while other states did not. Paul was close to a plurality in five states, but did not have a majority in eight which is the source of current Rule 40. However, what Ginsburg was noting on MSNBC is that Rule 40 require written pledges of support and Rule 16 does not require a bound delegate to sign a Rule 40 pledge of support (it merely bars them from signing somebody else’s nomination papers and binds their actual vote on the roll call). So in states in which Trump has a slim majority, he may not be able to get a majority to sign pledges of support if a handful of delegates refuse to sign. I don’t think this type of “game playing” is the type of things intended by the spirit of Rule 16 and Rule 40, but it is permitted by the letter of those rules.

    I think, if Trump somehow fails to get enough signed pledges of support to be nominated and the Chair applies the rules literally, all hell will break loose in Cleveland. But given the delegate selection rules, I think that, presently, Trump only count on all of his delegates being willing to sign pledges of support in three states. My hunch is that he will get enough signatures in states where he won all of the delegates because enough of the delegates will see this withholding signature as a nit-picking way to block Trump rather than a legitimate strategy (but that only gets him to six states.) I guess the real issue is whether Ginsburg was merely speculating or if he was using his status as a veteran rules expert to float a potential strategy.

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