This is part thirteen 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: 16 [10 at-large, 3 congressional district, 3 automatic]
Allocation method: proportional (with majority (50%) winner-take-all trigger)
Threshold to qualify for delegates: 20%
2012: proportional primary
There are only so many ways to allocate 16 delegates in a state with just one congressional district. Four years ago, Vermont Republicans met the less onerous RNC proportionality requirement by allocating its (11) at-large delegates in a proportionate manner to candidates with more than 20% of the vote statewide. The congressional district delegates (and automatic delegates -- 6 delegates total) were allocated in a winner-take-all fashion to the statewide winner as was allowed (considered proportional overall) in 2012.
The winner-take-all part of the 2012 Vermont delegate selection plan is not consistent with the changes the RNC has made to the national delegate selection rules for 2016; the stricter definition of proportionality. And that necessitated some form of change on the state level in a number of states. Rather than continue to make a distinction between the types of delegates and how they are allocated, for 2016, Green Mountain state Republicans have opted to pool all 16 delegates and allocate them proportionally based on the statewide vote.
And really, that was their only play if they were to comply with RNC rules given the March 1 presidential primary date. There are not multiple congressional districts in Vermont, and thus the single district vote is the statewide vote. As such, that synchronicity between state and district eliminates the ability to separately and proportionally allocate two different types of delegates (at-large and congressional district). For Vermont, then, there is no real meaningful distinction for the purposes of allocation. They are all just delegates.
The Vermont rules on 2016 delegate allocation set the bar for qualifying for delegates at 20% of the statewide vote. Candidates above that threshold are eligible for a share of the 16 delegates. Those below are left out. Importantly, though, there are triggers that would make Vermont a winner-take-all state. A candidate who receives more than 50% of the vote would be entitled to all 16 Vermont delegates. The usual field size caveats apply. The larger the field of candidates is on March 1, the less likely it is that one candidate will approach the 50% vote share mark. As the field is winnowed, however, that likelihood increases.
Additionally, there are scenarios where a crowded field might also force a winner-take-all allocation in Vermont. That happens in the situation in which only one candidate surpasses the 20% threshold. If there is only one candidate north of 20% then that candidate would -- like the candidate over 50% -- claim all of the Republican delegates from the Green Mountain state. There is nothing in the Vermont rules prohibiting such a backdoor winner-take-all allocation, and furthermore there are no detailed description of the "one candidate over 20%" contingency.
What the rules do lay out are plans for a situation in which no candidate receives more than 20% of the Vermont primary vote. In the event that no candidate is over 20%, the threshold drops to 15%. If no candidate is over 15% the threshold is lowered to 10%. Different states have dealt with this "no candidate over the minimum qualification threshold" differently. Some states, like Texas, define a specific number of (top) candidates to receive delegates if no one reaches the threshold. Others, like Tennessee (with its statewide, at-large delegates) or Minnesota, eliminate the minimum threshold altogether in the event that no candidate is above the threshold.
Vermont, though, is like Georgia (with its statewide, at-large delegates). Both have created a graduated threshold that decreases incrementally, but still maintains a minimum qualifying threshold. That moving target has implications. The cut points in the graduated threshold are somewhat arbitrary, and that has a decided impact on how delegates are ultimately allocated. If the winner finished at 15.1% and the runner-up was at 14.9%, the Vermont threshold would decrease to 15% and the winner would take all of the delegates despite winning only narrowly. And that is a different result than if the threshold dropped to 10% initially. In that case, the runner-up would claim some delegates.
FHQ understands the obvious counter to this: "Well, we're only talking about 16 delegates here." Absolutely, but a 16-0 delegate advantage is a lot better than a 9-7 edge and that is even more true when discussing states with a larger delegate cache. The point to all of this is that the moving target threshold is not without potentially significant ramifications.
The Vermont delegates -- all 16 delegates in total -- will be proportionally allocated to candidates with a vote share above the 20% mark. There are no polls that have been conducted in Vermont and the state of the Republican presidential nomination race there. Our best option then for exploring the impact of the rules in the Green Mountain state is to look at how the 2012 allocation would have been different had the 2016 rules been in place. In 2012 there were three candidates with a vote share greater than 20%. Mitt Romney claimed nine delegates and Ron Paul and Rick Santorum evenly split the remaining eight.1 Applying the 2016 rules to 2012 results, Vermont's allocation would look something like this2:
- Romney (40%) -- 7.600 delegates
- Paul (26%) -- 4.874 delegates
- Santorum (24%) -- 4.526 delegates
- Gingrich (8%) -- 0 delegates
- Huntsman (2%) -- 0 delegates
- Perry (1%3) -- 0 delegates
- Romney -- 8 delegates
- Paul -- 5 delegates
- Santorum 4 delegates
All 16 Vermont Republican delegates are bound through the first ballot at the national convention according to the provisions of Rule 11.i of the state party bylaws. The release process entails a delegate being freed if their candidate does not have their name placed in nomination at the national convention or if their candidate has suspended their campaign or withdrawn from the race.
State allocation rules are archived here.
1 Vermont Republicans had 17 delegates in 2012 and has subsequently lost a bonus delegate for 2016, dropping their total to 16.
2 Again, this is a simulation of the impact of the Vermont rules for 2016. Note also, that this simulation will be done using the 17 delegates from 2012. That will allow a better comparison of the impact of the rules.
3 The total sums to more than 100% because the percentages were rounded to the nearest whole number. The allocation is based on the full, voted-based percentage.
4 The Vermont rules also account for an under-allocation. Should, after rounding, there be an allocation of fewer delegates than are available, the unallocated delegate(s) are awarded to the top vote-getter.