Monday, December 12, 2011

Is the March 6 Texas Presidential Primary Really Safe from the Court Squabble Over Redistricting?

Over the weekend, FHQ received several requests/queries for some sort of comment about the impact the Supreme Court's Friday stay in the Texas redistricting case would have on the presidential primary in the Lone Star state. Will the decision have an impact? Yes and no.

There are two ways of thinking about this. One is from the standpoint of the delegate selection process. If the Republican Party of Texas allocates some of its delegates based on the results of the votes in the congressional districts, then how can the primary go forward in March without a new district map in place? The second is more of an administrative issue. How does the addition of another election affect the actual administration of these several elections? What are the costs? Setting aside the latter for the moment, the impact on RPT's presidential primary is minimal. Yes, there is a congressional district element to the allocation of delegates in the Texas Republican plan, but the point in the process where that intervenes decreases its impact. Let me explain.

There are a couple of elements involved here. First of all, neither the state of Texas nor the Republican Party of Texas has the luxury of leaning on past congressional districts. If this was simply a matter of divvying up the same 32 districts that existed before the Census in a way that accounted for population shifts within the state over the last decade, then that's one thing. But Texas has added four congressional seats and that affects the delegate apportionment from the national party. It is important to note that using the congressional district units in this process is something that is completely up to the state parties (on both sides). So while that element is part of the delegate selection process, it is only there so long as the Republican Party of Texas wants it there. Those sorts of decisions -- by the state parties -- is something in which the courts have continually refrained from becoming involved. They -- the courts -- just don't weigh in on those sorts of political -- intra-party -- questions. Instead they will defer to the state or national party's judgment. Now, where the courts may be sympathetic on these sorts of issues is when the administration of elections is affected. But I'll have more on that in a moment.  

The other part of this is the actual sequence of the Texas delegate allocation process. Texas represents a rare example of a state that opted to abandon completely its winner-take-all allocation rules of the past, instead adopting a proportional means of allocation in 2012. That proportional allocation is not for just a sliver of the overall total. No, Texas Republicans switched to a completely proportional allocation method for 2012.1 I don't want to preempt a post on the Texas delegate selection rules I'm working on, but suffice it to say, the congressional district portion of the allocation will not be an issue until and unless the redistricting court dispute plays out past the state convention in early June. [With the courts already discussing a bifurcated primary process with a March primary and a May primary, the courts are of the opinion that the dispute will be resolved in time for that May primary to be held. That, of course, precedes the June state convention.]


Well, under the new rules, the candidates' portion of the vote serves as an umbrella over the entire process. Each set of delegates -- whether at-large or congressional district -- is allocated proportionate to a candidate's share of the statewide vote. Well, truth be told, it is, in fact, the total number of delegates that are allocated proportionally. The at-large and congressional district distinctions are only made as a means of identifying the actual delegates and the candidates to whom they are pledged. [I'm already pushing back against that particular statement, so I know others will. Bear with me and take my word for it for the time being. I'll have a post dedicated to the Texas plan soon.] Much of that business is taken care of at the state convention anyway, so the RPT will not need the new district boundaries in place until then for the purpose of delegate allocation. On the evening of March 6, then, we'll know the number of delegates each candidate will have from Texas. We just won't know who those delegates are. [That's not a point that most people are concerned with anyway; especially if we're in the midst of a delegate counting under a microscope at that point.]

In terms of the process (within the party), then, Friday's stay is not likely to have much of an impact on the presidential primary. However, strain is already beginning to show as far as how this will affect the actual administration of the, now, two primaries that are supposedly going to take place in the spring. We move from a party issue to one that concerns the state, county and local administration of elections. Part of the reason the Texas primary stayed in March was because there was a tremendous amount of pushback from the local level on the effects a proposed move to April would have had (see links in footnote below). I spent enough time following the primary movement discussion to know that there are enough lines drawing various boundaries for various offices across Texas to make anything other than the status quo nearly impossible for local elections officials to make work -- at least that is the argument made whenever the possibility of a change to the system arises. That was witnessed in legislative hearings back in the spring and has already come up in the context of this redistricting discussion. The question presidential primary followers need to focus on as this proceeds is how sympathetic the courts will be to that complaint/argument from local elections officials. The answer to that question will hinge on the extent to which counties can make the argument that the additional election causes financial duress.

That may or may not push the presidential primary to a different date, but the allocation of delegates will be unaffected either way.

1 Texas legislators and the RPT were fearful -- unnecessarily, seemingly -- of the backlash from the RNC if it did not make changes to its delegate allocation formula from 2008. Of course, the old plan seems to have followed the guidelines of "proportionality" from the RNC as they were. Alas, changes were made.

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Anonymous said...

20/20 hindsight aside, if the Texas Primary remained prior to April 1st with a "winner take all" delegate allocation formula, RPT would have lost 50% + 3 delegates to the National Convention. Six states are experiencing that penalty but not Texas. If we knew we would have an April primary then the previous "winner take all" formula could have been retained.

National convention will have 2427 total delegates with 1214 needed to nominate. Texas will have 155 delegates.

Josh Putnam said...

That's been the argument from RPT, but check out that RNC memo in the "proportionality" link in the footnote. The definition of proportional includes a plan that is proportional by congressional district and statewide if no candidate receives over 50% of the vote, and winner-take-all otherwise. That was the previous RPT plan. It was already compliant.