Monday, November 9, 2015

2016 Republican Delegate Allocation: ALABAMA

Updated: 2.29.16

This is part four of a series of posts that will examine the Republican delegate allocation rules by state. The main goal of this exercise is to assess the rules for 2016 -- especially relative to 2012 -- in order to gauge the potential impact the changes to the rules along the winner-take-all/proportionality spectrum may have on the race for the Republican nomination. For this cycle the RNC recalibrated its rules, cutting the proportionality window in half (March 1-14), but tightening its definition of proportionality as well. While those alterations will trigger subtle changes in reaction at the state level, other rules changes -- particularly the new binding requirement placed on state parties -- will be more noticeable. 


Election type: primary
Date: March 1 
Number of delegates: 50 [26 at-large, 21 congressional district, 3 automatic]
Allocation method: proportional (with winner-take-most trigger statewide and congressional district)
Threshold to qualify for delegates: 20% statewide and within each congressional district
2012: proportional primary (same winner-take-most trigger, same 20% threshold)

Like New Hampshire, the primary in Alabama will operate under the same rules that it did four years ago. Unlike New Hampshire, that will mean a proportional allocation of two different pools of Alabama delegates, statewide, at-large delegates and congressional district delegates. Additionally, to qualify for either type of delegates, the candidates must clear a 20% threshold; twice the bar in New Hampshire. First, the basics:

If one candidate receives a majority of the statewide vote...
That candidate wins all 26 at-large delegates.

If one candidate receives a majority of the vote in a congressional district...
That candidate wins all three delegates from that district.

With multiple candidates currently involved in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, a majority candidate statewide and/or in each of the seven congressional districts is less likely. The field has winnowed between Iowa (and through New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada) and the SEC primary on March 1, but the emergence of the type of consensus candidate necessary to win a majority statewide much less across all seven congressional districts stretches thin what is probable. One candidate, then, is not likely to leave the Yellowhammer state with all 50 delegates.

However, while no candidate is likely to win a majority -- either statewide or on the congressional district level -- with multiple candidates involved, there is a backdoor path to winning a majority of the Alabama delegation. That happens if only one candidate surpasses the 20% threshold statewide or within a congressional district. Should only one candidate clear 20% statewide, that candidate already would control 50% +1 (delegate) of the Alabama delegation without even considering the results in the congressional districts (29 including both the at-large and automatic delegates).

The interesting thing here is that the Alabama Republican Party allocation system converts a significant amount of potential chaos into a potentially orderly allocation of the delegates. In fact, the more candidates involved, the more likely it is that no candidates meet or one candidate meets the 20% barrier. As the number of candidates drops, though, the likelihood of just one candidate clearing 20% drops as well. As that number -- the number of candidates -- approaches two, the likelihood of one candidate hitting the 50% threshold for winning all of the delegates statewide and/or in the congressional districts increases.

On either extreme, then, there is a potential trigger of a winner-take-most system; one with a 20% threshold and the other with a 50% bar. In between, and possibly where a March 1 contest will line up anyway, there is a level of competition where multiple candidates approach 20% and thus qualify for delegates.

But even in that sweet spot, if one wants to call it that, there is a limiting effect. Mathematically, up to five candidates can receive "at least 20%" of the vote. With other candidates drawing some votes away, however, that number is going to be four or fewer. In other words, the allocation rules in Alabama will tend toward either winnowing the field or reinforcing the winnowing that has already occurred in the carve out state contests.

That means that statewide, unless the above conditions are met, the 29 at-large and automatic delegates will be proportionally allocated among the candidates who clear 20%.1 Within the congressional districts, if multiple candidates clear 20%, then the top votegetter would receive two of three delegates while the runner-up would be awarded one.2

In the end, the Alabama Republican delegate allocation rules are something of a Rube Goldberg machine. While the method is perhaps over-engineered, there are some interesting escape values and trap door contingencies that depend on the field size and the dynamics of the race heading the March 1 SEC primary states.

Delegates will be bound to qualifying presidential candidates based on the rules above unless and until either 1) the candidate to whom the delegate is bound withdraws from the race for the Republican nomination and releases the delegates from their pledge or 2) if, by a two-thirds vote, the total number of delegates bound to that candidate opt to unalign/unpledge from that candidate at the national convention. On this second route, there is little room for abuse.

The rule provides just enough wiggle room for delegates to get out of the pledge but only in the scenario where there are multiple ballots/votes to determine the nominee at the convention. Both the chairman of the Alabama delegation and/or the secretary of the Republican National Convention have the authority to enforce the original pledge. And while the design is to release delegates from pledges in the event of a prolonged vote for the nominee at the convention, there is no expressed number of ballots after which delegates are released.

That said, the implication would seem to be that that point would fall after a first inconclusive ballot. That determination would be left up to the state delegation chairman or the convention secretary though.

State allocation rules are archived here.

1 In that case, the denominator for determining the proportionate share of delegates is the vote total only for those candidates over 20%. The exception is if no one clears that barrier. Should no candidate hit 20%, the allocation is proportional as if there was no threshold. To round up to a full delegate a candidate would have to win approximately 1.924% statewide.

2 Again, if no candidate clears 20%, then, as with the case at the statewide level, the allocation becomes proportional as if there is no threshold. Unless one candidate has a large advantage -- as large as one can be without being over 20% in the congressional district -- then the allocation is likely to one delegate to each of the top three finishers in the district.

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