Monday, December 29, 2014

But Southern States Will Have to Be Proportional

Throughout 2014 the idea of a southern regional primary has gathered some steam. Thanks to the efforts of Georgia Secretary of State, Brian Kemp (R), that has taken hold among a handful of secretaries of state across the Deep South and gotten some scrutiny in the media as well. Most of that examination tends to focus on the Republican side of the looming 2016 presidential nomination contest. The partisan focus in combination with the likely March 1 date for the proposed SEC presidential primary comes with the typical caveats about the Republican National Committee requirement for a proportional allocation of delegates for any contest held before March 15.

In other words, southern states are going to potentially cluster their contests on the earliest date allowed by the major parties, but with the implication that they will have to dilute the significance of the primaries by allocating delegates in a proportional manner; not winner-take-all.

But here's the thing (actually two things, but bear with me): 2012 showed that that dilution was not all that strong in the first place. That has something to do with the dispersion of primaries and caucuses across the calendar, but also is a function of the RNC definition of "proportional". Proportional does not mean proportional in the mathematical sense. Rather, it means that one candidate cannot receive all of a state's bound delegates (unless that candidate receives a majority of the statewide vote in a given primary, for example). Proportional simply means not winner-take-all.

For southern states considering a shift up to March 1 to be a part of this SEC primary, though, there is another important layer to add: They were all "proportional" in 2012. With the exception of Arkansas, North Carolina and Texas, every southern state had a primary or caucuses before April 1.1 And regardless of timing, all southern states either already had or transitioned an allocation plan with the necessary proportional element for 2012. Alabama was proportional. Georgia was proportional. Mississippi was proportional. Arkansas was funky, but it was proportional too (...even in late May).

There may be some revisions to those plans by state Republican parties in 2015, but across the states that are a part of this proposed SEC primary, the allocation plans are already proportional.

Will that dilute the power of the South on March 1, 2016? Perhaps, but recall that Democratic contests during the 1988 Southern Super Tuesday were proportional also. That fact did not hurt the southern states then as much as the diversity of winners of contests on that second Tuesday in March in 1988.

1 April 1 was the threshold before which states had to allocate delegates proportionally in 2012. That was shifted up to March 15 by the RNC for 2016.

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