Thursday, August 28, 2014

Revisiting the 2016 Republican Delegate Selection Rules

There are a few points that FHQ left undiscussed -- or perhaps unclear -- when the RNC finalized their delegate selection rules on timing and allocation back at their winter meeting this past January. That was mostly by design, waiting for the clock to run out on when the party could actually make any further changes. We're still not there yet, but there are no meetings of the RNC scheduled between now and September 30 -- the deadline beyond which changes can no longer be made (see Rule 12).

With the rules governing the 2016 presidential nominations now in place at the national party level, FHQ can focus a bit more on the changes made to the rules relative to 2012. Since the DNC did little to alter their delegate selection rules from 2012, most of this will be directed at the Republican side.

The biggest thing here is to highlight the fact that the RNC had one set of rules coming out of the Tampa convention in 2012 and has altered them in the time since. Importantly, that meant changes to the combination of rules and penalties associated with the timing of delegate selection events and the method of allocating those delegates. The rules that emerged from the Tampa convention sought to remedy the problem with the 2012 rules: there were two possible violations (timing and allocation), but only one penalty. That meant that there was only one 50% reduction in a state delegation for rogue states like Florida and Arizona which not only went to early but also maintained winner-take-all allocation methods despite holding contests in the party-designated proportionality window. The RNC had one penalty, but no contingency in place for the possibility of a state violating both the timing and allocation rules. And the party did not have the ability to double penalize the states; assessing the 50% penalty twice.

The Tampa rules dealt with that, but inconsistently and ineffectively. The party added a super penalty to dissuade states from violating the timing rule and shifted the 50% penalty to allocation violations. The problem with the former was that the rule forbidding early contests (Rule 16) did not match the penalty for violating that rule (Rule 17). Rule 16 forbade contests other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina from holding primaries or caucuses before March 1. However, Rule 17 levied a penalty against states that would hold contests prior to the last Tuesday in February. In 2016, that difference in the calendar was a week. There was, therefore, a week in which states could hold contests and not be sanctioned by the party.

That was a problem. And one the RNC recognized.

That was the state of affairs heading into 2014. The RNC had a set of flawed delegate selection rules that it had to tweak in some way to more efficiently/effectively/ideally deter timing or allocation rules violations. The party maintained the super penalty and strengthened it to address one of the remaining issues on the timing front.1 The party also synchronized the rules and penalties for timing, squaring the March 1/last Tuesday in February loophole. The rule was a bit too specifically narrow in its first iteration. It and the penalties were tailored to hit the usual rogue suspects: Arizona, Florida and Michigan.

The thinking was that there would be a tiered penalty regime. And that most states would attempt to avoid the super penalty but that states like the offending trio above could go early -- but not too early -- and incur just the 50% delegate hit they had thumbed their noses at in 2008 and/or 2012. That loophole week between the last Tuesday in February and March 1 was designed as a landing place for rogue states. Those states would avoid the super penalty there, but because they would likely maintain winner-take-all methods of allocation, those states would incur the 50% penalty associated with an allocation violation.2

This plan proved to perhaps be too clever by half. In the process of amending the timing rules and penalties, the RNC also tweaked and simplified the allocation rules and penalties at their winter meeting last January. The changes were twofold. First, the proportionality window was squeezed into a smaller period. Instead of states with contests before April 1 having to have some element of their delegate allocation plan be proportional, that only applies to states with contests before March 15. Secondly, the applicability of the penalty was changed. The RNC tightening up the super penalty meant that the 50% penalty was no long necessary as a backstop against states willing to go too early and maintain a true winner-take-all method of allocation.

All that means is that the RNC laid out two distinct penalties; one for a timing violation and one deterring winner-take-all contests prior to March 15. Closing the last Tuesday in February/March 1 loophole cleaned that up. That left a super penalty for states willing and able to go rogue and a 50% penalty for pre-March 15 states that fail to include a proportional element to their allocation plans. Additionally, under the altered plan, states that do not comply with the proportionality requirement would have their delegates allocated to candidates proportionally automatically by the RNC at the convention. States with no proportional element to their allocation plans (and with contests before March 15) would have their at-large (statewide) delegates proportionally allocated to all candidates who received at least 10% of the vote in the primary or caucus.3 This automatic proportionalization would be in addition to the 50% penalty. Together, both penalties would seemingly and more effectively deter states from utilizing a true winner-take-all plan before March 15. No, the 50% penalty has proven less than effective as a one-off penalty over the 2008 and 2012 cycles. However, there is little to gain by stubbornly sticking to a winner-take-all allocation method if the RNC is just going to add an element of proportionality at the convention anyway.

The bottom line is that the RNC has synced it rules and penalties and has from all appearances closed any remaining loopholes in the party's delegate selection rules. States that violate the timing rule are assessed the super penalty and states that break the allocation rules are assessed a 50% penalty and automatically proportionalized by the RNC.4 The DNC rules are different. The Democrats require proportionality of all states regardless of when they hold their delegate selection events and levy a 50% delegate deduction on any state that holds a contest before the first Tuesday in March (March 1 in 2016). The trump card they can play if that 50% penalty proves an ineffective deterrent is that the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee can increase the penalty at their discretion.

1 The original super penalty treated states both differently and the same. The bigger the state, the larger the hit to the delegation. However, all states got knocked down to 12 total delegates. That meant that if a state was small enough -- or had a small enough delegation -- that the penalty ended up being less than the 50% penalty that has traditionally existed. The point of the super penalty was to be, well, super. The fix the RNC devised was to set a threshold at 30 total delegates. States with 30 or more delegates would be penalized down to 12 total delegates for a timing violation while those states with fewer than 30 delegates would have just nine left over after the penalty was assessed.

2 To reiterate, both Arizona and Florida were double violators in 2012, breaking both the timing and allocation rules. There were some issues with the Michigan allocation method that would potentially brought it under the winner-take-all regime. The RNC, then, hoped these states would be deterred by the super penalty, but not by a 50% penalty. Again, those states would have been incentivized to go early, but not too early. It would not be early enough to fundamentally disrupt the calendar.

3 One of the lessons of 2012 Republican delegate allocation rules that never seemed to sink in very well was what the true definition of "proportional" was and what that meant for allocation. Note that FHQ keeps using variations of the phrase "and element of the allocation plan has to be proportional". That is by design. States like New Hampshire can still maintain a strictly proportional allocation under the 2016 RNC rules, but that is not mandated. All states are required to do by the rules -- the bare minimum proportionality -- is to allocate their cache of at-large (statewide) delegates proportionally. That is a number of delegates that varies by state based on how loyally Republican a state has been in past votes for president, governor and overall state legislature control. The redder a state is, then, the more at-large delegates it receives. Ohio for instance is similar in (population) size but bigger than Georgia, yet the Peach state had more delegates in 2012 than did Republicans in the Buckeye state.

4 No, proportionalized is not a word. I'm making it up. Get in on the ground floor now and start using it.

Recent Posts:
Update: 2016 Presidential Primary Calendar (8/26/14)

So, It Turns Out Arizona Has Actually Moved Its Presidential Primary Back on the Calendar

DNC Set to Finalize 2016 Rules at Atlanta Meeting

Are you following FHQ on TwitterGoogle+ and Facebook? Click on the links to join in.

No comments: