Saturday, November 14, 2015

2016 Republican Delegate Allocation: ARKANSAS

Updated: 3.3.16

This is part six 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: 40 [25 at-large, 12 congressional district, 3 automatic]
Allocation method: proportional
Threshold to qualify for delegates: 15%
2012: proportional primary

Arkansas is a quirky one. That was true in 2012 and is true in 2016 as well.

Though the Republican Party in the Natural state arrives at proportionality differently than almost any state -- in or out of the proportionality window -- that method has not really changed in the four years since 2012. What has changed most noticeably is that the Arkansas primary is much earlier in 2016 than it was in 2012. The state legislature uprooted the usual May primaries -- presidential and those for statewide and congressional offices -- and moved them to March to coincide with a number of other states in the SEC primary coalition.

And the the Republicans in the state brought their unique delegate allocation formula with them.

As the Arkansas primary fits firmly within the March 1-14 proportionality window on the Republican presidential primary calendar, the method has to be proportional. Again, it is in 2016 as was the case in 2012 (despite not being in the proportionality window four years ago). But how the Arkansas GOP arrives at proportionality is different.

The first consideration in the Arkansas allocation is what it takes to qualify for delegates. And, depending on the level -- statewide or congressional district -- the threshold is different.

At-large/automatic delegates
To receive any of the 28 statewide, at-large and automatic delegates a candidate must clear the 15% threshold. There is no rounding up from, say, 14.5%. A candidate must have a minimum of 15% of the statewide vote be allocated any delegates. However, the resultant allocation of those delegates to candidates is not strictly proportional.

First, each candidate over 15% is awarded one delegate. If one candidate receives a majority of the vote statewide, then that candidate is allocated the remaining at-large/automatic delegates. So, if four candidates clear the 15% barrier and one of those won more than 50% of the vote, then candidates 2-4 each receive one delegate and the top finisher statewide receives the other 25 at-large delegates (1 delegate for clearing 15% and 24 additional delegates for winning a majority statewide). That the other three candidates get any delegates out of this makes the majority trigger here a winner-take-most rather than winner-take-all trigger.

If, however, none of the four candidates in the above scenario wins a statewide majority, then the allocation is more proportional. More proportional, but not strictly proportional. The first step, allocating one delegate to those over 15%, would still have happened. All four candidates would have one delegate. The remaining 21 at-large delegates would be proportionally allocated by rule to the top three finishers statewide. In other words, the candidate finishing fourth statewide -- over 15% in this scenario -- would be stuck on the one delegate and frozen out of any additional delegates.

Let's assume the statewide vote looks something like this1:
Trump -- 30.1%
Carson -- 18.9%
Rubio -- 15.3%
Cruz -- 15.0%

Again, each candidate would receive one delegate to start for clearing the 15% threshold. The remaining 24 at-large/automatic delegates would be proportionally allocated among the top three. Those top three -- Trump, Carson and Rubio -- would have the following, what FHQ will call "real allocation percentages"2:
Trump -- 46.8%
Carson -- 29.4%
Rubio -- 23.8%

That translates to an allocation of those 24 delegates that looks like this:
Trump -- 11.232
Carson -- 7.056
Rubio -- 5.712

It is at this point that the language of the allocation rules gets a bit murky:
The remaining at-large delegates and alternates shall be allocated among the three candidates receiving the greatest vote statewide in proportion to their votes with any fractional proportion of a delegate/alternate being rounded up for the candidate receiving the greater number of votes statewide.
Now, if that said greatest rather than greater, then Trump would be the beneficiary of any and all fractional delegates. Rubio would receive 5 delegates and Carson 7. That would bump Trump up to 12 delegates  plus the one for having cleared 15%. But saying greater instead makes that less clear. At most, though, it means the transference of one delegate. In a true "round any fraction above .5 up" scenario, Rubio would have 6 delegates. However, if all the fractional delegates go to the top votergetter, then Rubio would have 5 delegates with that sizable fraction (.712) heading to Trump.

Regardless, the statewide allocation would end up approximating something like the following:
Trump -- 13
Carson -- 8
Rubio -- 6
Cruz -- 1

What we can take away from this is that the Arkansas rules are designed to benefit those at the top. First, anyone over 15%, but then the top three and then seemingly the winner when it comes to the method of rounding. This is even clearer when one considers that fewer scenarios are laid out in the Arkansas plan than is true in some other delegate allocation plans out there. What FHQ means by that is that there are no specific rules put forth describing the allocation if only one candidate clears the 15% threshold statewide. Should just one candidate receive more than 15% statewide, then that candidate would, absent any rules describing alternatives, receive all 28 at-large and automatic delegates. Like Alabama, the Arkansas plan potentially takes a chaotic primary process -- one with a lot of candidates -- and translates that into a less chaotic allocation of the delegates.
Between July when the above rules were given the green light by the Arkansas Republican Party State Committee and September when they were approved by the Executive Committee, the discrepancy above -- the greater/greatest rounding rule -- was cleaned up and removed. Simpler language replaced it calling for the rounding of fractional at-large to the nearest whole number.

FHQ pulled and posted the July rules that were still posted on the Arkansas Republican Party website in mid-November. The September update was not posted there until after that point.

Congressional district delegates
The rules for allocating the delegates in each of Arkansas' four congressional districts (12 total) are less complex. There is only one threshold; a ceiling threshold. If a candidate wins a majority in a district, then that candidate would be allocated all three delegates from that district. That is a winner-take-all trigger. However, if no candidate wins a majority then the top two candidates split the three delegates in the district. The winner receives two delegates and the runner-up the other remaining delegate. This qualifies as proportional under the Republican National Committee rules, if only by default. At the end of the day, there are only so many ways to proportionally allocate three delegates.

While the plan described above paints a picture of a process that takes chaos and converts it to order via the allocation of delegates to a limited number of competitors, there is a more chaotic caveat to also consider. The delegate slots are only reserved for a candidate to a certain extent. Candidates will only hold those delegate slots as long as there are delegate candidates in the district and state meetings where they are elected to fill them. If a candidate does not have enough delegate candidates to fill his or her available spots, then the unfilled positions go to the candidate with the highest number of votes -- either in the district or statewide -- and available delegate candidates to fill the void.

There are two things to consider when looking at this. The first is that such a process provides for the orderly transference of delegate slots from a candidate who is going to or has dropped out of the race. Presumably, a low finishing candidate drops out and those delegate slots get transferred to the winning candidate.

Yet, one would surely want to think about the variation in organization across the campaigns in this scenario as well. It is a system that seemingly rewards the winners, but could also reward organization too. In the event, then, that none of the top finishers drops out there is still a scenario where delegate positions could move around depending on organization. And this would not necessarily always benefit the winner either statewide or in the congressional districts.

Take our example from above; the one where Trump, Carson, Rubio and Cruz win some statewide delegates. Trump did pretty well in the vote and won 12 hypothetical delegates. But assume for a moment that Trump does not have 13 Trump-aligned delegate candidates ready to roll. Let's say he only has 8 to run for those 13 slots. In that case, there would be five slots that would move on to another candidate. If Carson had not only 8 delegate candidates to run for the statewide slots he won, but 20 (or even just 12), then those four unfilled Trump slots would move to him. If Carson did not have any extras or not enough extra delegate candidates, then those slots would be transferred to the next highest votegetter with a surplus of delegate candidates.

Winning or getting into the top five or six in Arkansas is one thing, then, but there is a premium placed on organizing enough delegate candidates -- an unofficial slate of them really -- to actually fill the delegate slots allocated based on the primary results.

After all of that is settled, the Arkansas delegates are bound to their particular candidates for the first ballot at the national convention (or if the candidate to whom they are bound drops out after the selection process).

State allocation rules are archived here.

1 These numbers are taken from the Huffington Post Pollster national averages (set to "less smoothing") on November 14, 2015. To stay true to the four candidate scenario described above, we will add 2.7 percentage points to Ted Cruz's total to get the Texas senator to 15%. The numbers other than having four candidates over 15% are inconsequential. The intent is to simulate the allocation in Arkansas.

2 That is the proportion of the vote each candidate received, but calculating the percentage as if only those three candidates (and the votes they received) were involved in the primary.

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