Thursday, June 11, 2015

"...allows the party to..."

Ohio officially moved its presidential primary from March 8 to March 15 with Governor John Kasich's signature yesterday. Any time a state with 66 delegates moves -- even if only a week -- it is newsworthy.

But let's be real about the implications here. Here's is how Randy Ludlow describes it in the Columbus Dispatch:
Moving the presidential primary from March 8 to March 15 next year shifts Ohio from awarding its presidential convention delegates proportionally to granting all the delegates to the statewide winner.
That is not technically right. And it really is not something FHQ should feel compelled to respond to except for the fact that the difference between being misleading (about the process) and accurately describing matters is a four word phrase: allows the party to.

As in, "Moving the presidential primary from March 8 to March 15 next year allows the [Ohio Republican] party to shift from awarding its presidential convention delegates proportionally to granting all the delegates to the statewide winner."

Just four words turns the original text -- that implies a switch from proportional to winner-take-all was automatic upon Kasich's signature -- into a brief sentence that captures the sequence of all of this. The state government has completed its work by passing a bill through the legislature that was subsequently signed into law by the governor. In primary states, it is the state government that controls the date of the contest. However, the state parties hold the power to set the delegate allocation method (within national party guidelines).

Ohio Republicans have signaled that that switch -- proportional to winner-take-all -- is coming, but FHQ has yet to see any reporting (or anything on the Ohio Republican Party website to confirm) that a rules change has actually been made yet. In 2011, Ohio Republicans did not settle on a delegate allocation plan for 2012 until October (due to a prolonged redistricting dispute). With no redistricting conflicts, Ohio Republicans will have the ability to set those rules a little earlier in 2015 than they did in 2011.

Again, the Ohio presidential primary has moved to March 15. The state government controls that. However, the state party controls the method of delegate allocation. Those are interrelated but distinct actions taken by different actors.

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The other troubling thing here -- and this was likely not Ludlow's intent in a very brief item -- is that by making it seem as if a primary date change automatically triggers a delegate allocation change, it builds on the false 2012 narrative that once the proportionality window closes, all primaries and caucuses are winner-take-all. In other words, the Republican National Committee has required winner-take-all contests on and after March 15. That was false in 2012 and it is false for the 2016 cycle. The close of the proportionality window marks the end of the RNC's requirements on delegate allocation at the state level. Once the window closes, state parties are free to set a method of delegate allocation of their choosing. It can be proportional. It can be winner-take-all. It can be some hybrid in between. The state party's hold maximum latitude in setting their delegate allocation rules if that state has a contest on or after March 15.


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