Wednesday, December 9, 2015

2016 Republican Delegate Allocation: COLORADO

This is part seven 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: caucus/convention
Date: March 1 
Number of delegates: 37 [13 at-large, 21 congressional district, 3 automatic (unbound)]
Allocation method: determined by state and/or congressional district convention(s) or left unbound
Threshold to qualify for delegates: n/a
2012: non-binding caucuses

FHQ often says that sequence matters.

It does. But we typically talk about sequence in meta-terms: how each state and their respective primaries and caucuses collectively line up on the presidential primary calendar.

Sequence, however, also matters in the delegate allocation or selection process within states. That is definitely true with regard to the unconventional method of delegate allocation/selection the Colorado Republican Party has opted to use during the 2016 presidential nomination cycle.

As has previously been discussed in this space, Colorado Republicans have decided to skip the presidential preference vote at its March 1 precinct caucuses. Now, that decision could be chalked up to a desire to skirt the new-for-2016 national party delegate binding requirements, a misunderstanding of the national party rules, or division within the state party organization. In reality, it is a little bit of all three. Practically though, the "how Colorado came to this point" question is less important than the "what effect the decision will have" one.

First, it is likely to turn the March 1 precinct caucuses into a non-event.1 With no preference vote, there is no real or easy way to gauge the winner of the caucuses. Since there is no presidential preference poll conducted at the precinct caucuses their is nothing on which to base any subsequent delegate allocation. And even the back up option -- counting the number of delegates that advance to the county assemblies aligned with particular candidates -- is compromised to some degree. Typically in caucuses, those who attend, meet and select folks from among their ranks at one step to move on to the next step in the process. That process continues to the congressional district level and/or the state convention level where national convention delegates are chosen from among those who are left from the whittled down group of original precinct caucusgoers.

That may yet be the case in Colorado, but it will be a bit atypical and messy getting there.

Candidates for delegate must file an intent to run form with the Colorado Republican Party chair no later than 13 days prior to the convention at which they would be elected (Rule XIII.A.5.a). For statewide, at-large delegates, that would mean 13 days before the April 9 state convention, and for congressional district delegates, 13 days before the congressional district conventions that meet between March 29 and April 9 (a filing deadline range from March 16-25).

To be eligible to run, a delegate candidate must:
  • have been eligible to participate in the precinct caucuses
  • have been a registered Republican in the state/district at the time of the precinct caucuses and remain so through the relevant convention (depending on which delegate position is sought, at-large or congressional district)
  • have been a delegate, alternate or qualified voting member at the county assemblies
  • be a delegate to the district or state convention (depending on which delegate position is sought, at-large or congressional district)
It is that third one that is perhaps most important. To take part in the county assemblies, one has to have been elected/selected at the precinct caucuses to move on to the next step in the process. That means that the national convention delegates will emerge from the participants in the March 1 precinct caucuses; the ones without a preference vote. And while there is no preference vote at the precinct caucuses, the intent to run form delegate candidates must file with the party chair after that point on the calendar (after March 1) gives those delegate candidates the option of aligning with/pledging to a presidential candidate.

That pledge is much more important than is being discussed.

Colorado has been talked about as a state that will send an unbound delegation to the national convention. That would only be the case if all the delegate candidates who file intent to run forms opted to remain unaffiliated with any presidential campaign. If those delegate candidates pledge to a presidential candidate and are ultimately elected to one of the 34 delegate slots (not counting the party/automatic delegates), then they are functionally locked in with that candidate if that candidate is still in the race for the Republican nomination.

They would be bound to those candidates at the national convention because the Colorado Republican Party bylaws instruct the party chair to cast the delegation's votes at the national convention "in accordance with the pledge of support made by each National Delegate on their notice of intent to run". Anywhere from 0 to 34 delegates could end up bound from the Colorado delegation to the Republican National Convention.

That is a real wildcard in the delegate count in Colorado and nationally.

But let's return to sequence for a moment.

The precinct caucuses are on March 1. Intent to run forms are due no later than mid-to-late March, following at the very least the other primaries and caucuses held on or before March 15. The first puts a premium on organizing -- turning out as many supporters as possible for the precinct caucuses and then getting those supporters through to the county assemblies. It is only that group of county assembly participants who are eligible to be national convention delegates. Showing strength there is everything in the delegate allocation process in Colorado in 2016.

But we will not have an answer to that right away necessarily; not unless those that make it through to the county assemblies immediately submit intent to run delegate candidate forms (and the Colorado Republican Party actually reports those results). Regardless of the reporting from the state party, if a campaign is able to corner the market and move through to the next step a bunch of its supporters, that candidate will have a decided advantage in the delegate allocation process. They would dominate the pool of potential candidates and maximize the number of delegates the campaign eventually wins.

Rather than being a state with no preference vote that no one pays attention to, Colorado becomes a real delegate prize for the campaigns who are able to organize there. Those that gain an organizational advantage -- and that is much more likely in a low turnout election without the incentive of a presidential preference vote -- have a real opportunity to get something out of the Centennial state. It will not necessarily entail candidates coming into the state over the course March and into April (because forcing delegate candidates through to the county assembly level is the true mark of winning there), but it may make the media outlets pay continued attention to Colorado as the process there resolves itself. And since there is no preference vote guiding the delegate allocation process from step to step, a candidate could dominate in Colorado and come out on April 9 with a significant majority of delegates.

This rules set up means Colorado could go a lot of ways, but like some of the other states with, say, vote thresholds to qualify for delegates, the method in Colorado is likely to favor a limited number of candidates.

Colorado delegates will be bound to the candidates to whom they have pledged on the first ballot at the national convention. The exceptions are 1) if the delegate candidate filed as uncommitted and 2) if a presidential candidate has withdrawn from the race (thus releasing any delegates). In both cases, those delegates would be free to choose from among the candidates still in the race. Left unsaid is how those votes are cast at the convention. If all delegates end up bound, the chairperson of the party casts the votes of the delegation according to the pledges in the intent to run forms. However, in the event that there is a faction of uncommitted and/or released delegates, then it is the delegates themselves who cast their own ballots.

State allocation rules are archived here.

1 In the conventional sense, candidates will not necessarily come to Colorado to drive up support for a March 1 vote that will not happen. That is doubly true in light of the fact that Colorado shares its precinct caucuses date with primaries and caucuses in 13 other states. Functionally though, with delegates potentially on the line, Colorado is certainly not a non-event.

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