Saturday, June 27, 2015

Iowa Republicans Trying to Find the Right Balance in 2016 Delegate Allocation


It is a real shame that Jennifer Jacobs' Des Moines Register story on the Iowa Republican Party's deliberations on delegate allocation in 2016 was released after 5pm on the East coast and on a day with so much other news. This really is an interesting, if not important, story.1

The question Iowa Republicans are wrestling with now is something that FHQ discussed at the beginning of May. Basically: How does a state party make the transition from non-binding caucuses in one cycle to being a binding caucus state in the next? What kind of delegate allocation rules do you, as a party, craft? And how?

As Iowa Republican Party officials let on to Jacobs, the process is tricky. In reality, it is that much trickier because Iowa has the first contest. It is all well and good to just select a method of delegate allocation at random, but all things held equal, Iowa Republicans theoretically have a different calculus on this than most if not all other states. Very simply, it is more difficult for Iowa to devise rules on delegate allocation when other states 1) have tried and tested a particular method over time and 2) will likely see a significantly winnowed field of candidates in a March 1 or April 26 primary.

South Carolina Republicans, for instance, have a pretty good idea of how a winner-take-most (winner-take-all by congressional district) plan works. There is a reason the party has used that method for as long as it has. California Republicans utilize a similar allocation plan to South Carolina's, but with a June primary, the list of surviving viable candidates will look decidedly different from the group that will brave the mid-winter cold of Iowa four months prior.

If you are the Iowa Republicans, how do you plan for the possibility that the winner of your early/first contest may not actually still be around later in the process, much less at the convention? How do you bind those delegates in a way that accounts not only for that but also reflects the results of the caucuses?

For starters, Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann says that the party is leaning toward a proportional rather than winner-take-all method. As FHQ argued before, such a move is at least partially one made to preserve the state's first-in-the-nation status. No, Iowa is not affected by the proportionality requirement -- none of the carve-out state are -- but the RNC is unlikely to look on a move to adopt winner-take-all rules favorably.

So, no winner-take-all.

However, as FHQ mentioned repeatedly in 2011-12 and already here in 2015, there are a number of variations to the proportional method of delegate allocation as defined by the Republican National Committee rules on delegate selection. In the thought experiment FHQ constructed in initially bringing up the Iowa delegate binding question, due to the likely large field and depending on how the rules are written, Iowa could be proportional, but with a threshold that could make it winner-take-all or nearly winner-take-all. If, for instance, Iowa Republicans set a minimum threshold for receiving any delegates at 20%, then it is not inconceivable that with such a large field, only one candidate would break that barrier. And he or she would potentially be awarded all of the delegates (either statewide and/or at the congressional district level). Iowa would become a backdoor winner-take-all state.

What that demonstrates in reality is that state parties have a great deal of latitude under the national Republican guidelines in setting these delegate allocation rules. And the proposals in Iowa appear to be closer to a truly proportional distribution of delegates. As Jennifer Jacobs describes it:
Candidates would be awarded a percentage of delegates that roughly matches the percentage each candidate wins in the Iowa caucuses. For example, say former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum wins 20 percent on Feb. 1. He'd be assigned 20 percent of Iowa's 30 delegates. That's six delegates.  
The proportional numbers would be rounded to the nearest whole delegate, so a candidate would have to earn at least 3 percent of the vote in the caucuses to get just one delegate.
This is a proportional plan with no threshold other than a candidate getting a share of the caucus vote large enough to round up to one delegate.2 It is a more open plan rather than a closed one, limiting the number of candidates who may qualify for delegates.

FHQ should also note that this plan Jacobs describes is a truly proportional plan, allocating delegates proportionally based on the statewide results alone. The plan described does not split the allocation across statewide and congressional district results. In other words it makes no distinction between at-large and congressional district delegates in the allocation. To be very -- VERY -- clear, the plan Jacobs describes separates the allocation and election/selection parts of the delegate process. All delegate slots (regardless of whether they are at-large or congressional district slots) are allocated to candidates based on the statewide results in the likely February 1 caucuses. Delegates to fill those allocated slots are elected/selected at either congressional district conventions (12 congressional district delegates) or at the state convention (at-large delegates). Those delegates are then bound to vote for the candidate to whom their slot was allocated.

That binding mechanism beyond the caucuses (and the Iowa state convention) is the other part of the calculus that Iowa Republicans are dealing with now. How long does that -- the bind -- last at the national convention and under what conditions? Actually the considerations in Iowa add another wrinkle. Again, from Jennifer Jacobs:
If the nation rallies around one favorite candidate in the states that follow Iowa, the convention will be easier, Kaufmann said. Iowa GOP officials could pass a rule that says if only one candidate's name is placed in nomination, all of Iowa's delegates are bound to cast their first vote for that one candidate.  
But what if more than one Republican is up for nomination at the convention? One idea is to reshuffle the delegates so that "all of Iowa's votes will go to candidates who have officially been placed in nomination," said David Chung, a member of the party's governing board. That way, votes aren't being cast for candidates no longer in the race. If there are, say, three candidates in the nomination fight, 100 percent of Iowa's delegates would be divided among those three, in proportion to the number of votes each got in the caucuses.
Now, both scenarios represent planning that is innovative but is also unique to either Iowa, the 2016 cycle or both. We might call these contingencies a "rebinding" of the delegates. That, however, is a loaded term. In a fractious party -- state or national -- rebinding gets right to the heart of the fairness of the process. Yet, what the proposals indicate is a conscience effort on the part of the Republican Party of Iowa to create a formula that can adapt to the changes that will almost certainly occur as the Republican presidential nomination process moves from its official kickoff in Iowa to the national convention in Cleveland. The party is seemingly trying to create a formula that always makes an attempt to accurately reflect the results of the caucuses.

Overall, these are difficult issues to tackle. And the uncertainty of the cycle to this point is driving a lot of contingency planning. Since Iowa is the first delegate selection event, the rules behind its delegate selection process almost have to be complicated enough to accommodate a broad candidate landscape, a landscape that will evolve over the course of primary season (based on the results of other contests, the influx of super PAC money and other factors).

The new RNC delegate binding rules have brought or will bring about rules changes at the state level. In total, that may end up being a lot of rules changes. The more rules changes there are, there greater the potential for unintended consequences. That may be consequential.

...or it may just end up being overplanning on the other side of the 2016 election. It is interesting to consider the implications though.

1 Results may vary on just how interesting or important it is to you, valued reader, but for FHQ, well...

2 Depending on how the rules are written, a candidate being awarded one delegate could have to get 3% of the vote or a share that would round up to 3%, say, 2.5%. As is often the case, though, often times delegates will be awarded sequentially starting with the top votegetter and working down the vote-based rank ordering. The rounding more often occurs on the actual delegate awarding rather than the vote share. Let's use the Santorum example from Jacobs' description, but assume that he won 19.9% of the vote.
30 (total Iowa Republican delegates) X .199 = 5.97 delegates
Santorum's total haul would not be 5.97 delegates. That would round up to 6 delegates. There are no fractional delegates. However, states deal with rounding differently to account for the fact that there are no fractional delegates allowed. Some always round up while others round up only if the fraction is higher than .49. The rounding rules impact the candidates at the top end of the rank ordering, but that is minor in view of the fact that those further down the list could get shut out of the allocation due to how the rounding rules are constructed. The 2012 Iowa Republican caucus results offer a nice example of this issue.

2012 Iowa Republican Caucus Results and Delegate Allocation
CandidateVote (%)Delegates
(Rounded Down)1
(Rounded Up)
1 Delegates are rounded up only if the fractional delegate is greater than .49. Fractional delegates at or below .49 are rounded down.
2 The Perry number is not rounded up as the rest are because there were only three delegates that remained to be allocated by the time the sequence worked down the list to him.
3 Remainders in this case means any delegates left unallocated due to the rounding rules, not the candidates who received a smaller share of the Iowa caucus vote than Rep. Bachmann. 

To reiterate, the top votegetters are only marginally affected. In this instance there are minimal differences in the delegate gaps between candidates based on the rounding rules. However, those candidates with smaller vote shares may or may not qualify for any delegates depending on the rounding. With a sequential, top-down allocation with round up rules, Bachmann gets shut out of delegates where she gets two delegates under different rounding rules.

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