Tuesday, January 19, 2016

2016 Republican Delegate Allocation: LOUISIANA

Updated 3.5.16

This is part twenty 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 5
Number of delegates: 46 [25 at-large, 18 congressional district, 3 automatic]
Allocation method: proportional
Threshold to qualify for delegates: 20%1
2012: primary/caucus

Changes since 2012
Digging down, there are a number of changes to the Louisiana Republican Party delegate allocation rules for 2016. First, the state legislature in the Pelican state moved the presidential primary up a couple of weeks to early March back in 2014. That shift preceded the regional push to form the SEC primary. Still, the Louisiana presidential primary will fall just a few days later, the weekend after a number of southern states hold contests on March 1.

Secondly, delegates will be more clearly allocated through the presidential primary election. Four years ago, the at-large delegates were allocated based on the statewide vote in the primary while the congressional district delegates remained officially unbound (after having been selected in district caucuses). Unlike four years ago, then, Louisiana Republicans have linked the allocation of delegates -- both at-large and congressional district -- to the results of the presidential primary. There are still district caucuses, but the voting there will in part select the delegates ultimately allocated and bound to candidates based on the primary results.

Another change is in the qualifying threshold. In 2012, a candidate had to receive 25% of the statewide vote to qualify for any of the at-large delegates at stake in Louisiana. For 2016, just 20% is necessary. That is the maximum qualifying threshold allowed by the RNC. [Truth be told, that was true in 2012 as well. Louisiana exceeded it.]

As has been witnessed in other states, that 20% barrier has a limiting effect on who and how many candidates actually qualify for delegates. In a crowded field, fewer candidates would likely cross the line. As the field winnows, however, that number increases, but only to a point. Only as many as five candidates could qualify and that is only in the event that all five tie at the top with exactly 20%. In other words, somewhere between one and four candidates are likely to be allocated any of the at-large delegates.

There is no similar threshold conditioning the allocation of congressional district delegates. Unless one candidate runs away from the rest in a congressional district, then functionally, the top three finishers in a district vote will be allocated one delegate each.

Additionally, Louisiana Republicans have not put a winner-take-all threshold in place. Even if a candidate were to win a majority of the vote either statewide or on the congressional district level, it would not trigger an allocation of all of the (unit-specific) delegates to that candidate. It is always proportional (by RNC rules) with some caveats.

Delegate allocation (at-large and automatic delegates)
The Louisiana delegates will be proportionally allocated to candidates based on the outcome of the March 5 primary in the Pelican state. Based on an earlier poll conducted on the race in Louisiana (the late September 2015 WWL-TV/Clarus survey), the allocation would look something like this2:
  • Carson (23%) -- 28 delegates
  • Trump (19%) -- 0 delegates
  • Bush (10%) -- 0 delegates 
  • Rubio (9%) -- 0 delegates 
  • Fiorina (7%) -- 0 delegates 
  • Cruz (6%) -- 0 delegates 
  • Huckabee (4%) -- 0 delegates 
  • Jindal (3%) -- 0 delegates
  • Kasich (3%) -- 0 delegates
  • Christie (2%) -- 0 delegates
The above allocation seems quite cut and dry: Ben Carson, using these numbers in Louisiana, would be the only candidate to qualify for at-large delegates. The retired neurosurgeon would be the only candidate north of the 20% threshold that Louisiana Republicans have in place to guide the delegate allocation there.

Appearance, however, might not match reality here because there is a lot left unsaid in the Louisiana delegate allocation rules. Yes, a candidate must receive at least 20% of the statewide vote to qualify for any of the 28 at-large and automatic delegates. Yet, the above simulated allocation -- a backdoor winner-take-all scenario statewide -- is not be how the allocation works in practice.

There is no contingency specified in the event that only one candidate surpasses the threshold.3 And that, in turn, leaves some of this to interpretation. The way FHQ has treated other states in similar situations is that if only one candidate clears the threshold, then that candidate claims all of those delegates -- either at-large and/or congressional district -- unless explicitly prohibited by the state party rules.

Well, there is no such prohibition in Louisiana. In fact, the language of the rule is pretty important here (Rule 4c).
...each Republican candidate for President who has qualified for the 2016 Presidential Preference Primary Election may submit a list of 46 potential at-large delegates and alternate delegates. Presidential candidates receiving more than 20% of the statewide vote on Primary Election Day will be allocated the same proportion, rounded by the Executive Committee, of all 23 at-large delegates and alternate delegates...
That actually indirectly prohibits a backdoor winner-take-all allocation to Ben Carson in the simulation above. Carson would only be allocated his raw percentage of the at-large delegates (using the statewide vote rather than the qualifying vote as the denominator in the allocation equation). In other words, rather than receiving all 28 of the at-large delegates (for being the only qualifying candidate), Carson would only net 23% of those 28 delegates. That is just 6.44 delegates, a far cry from the 28 above.

The catch is that the Louisiana Republican Party Executive Committee has the ambiguous discretion of rounding the delegate totals. That and the above fact about raw percentages matter whether there is just one candidate above the 20% qualifying threshold or multiple candidates (as is likely the case with a March 5 contest). Without adjusting the denominator in the allocation equation from the total votes cast to just the votes of the qualifying candidates, the Louisiana Republican Party has quietly and within the RNC rules, mind you, created a group of unbound delegates.

In the above example, Carson would get 6 or 7 at-large delegates depending on how the Executive Committee rounds that 6.44. Again, the committee has the latitude to set that allocation. But it is based on the "same proportion" of the vote that Carson received statewide. That leaves 21 or 22 unallocated delegates. Those would theoretically be delegates selected and sent to the national convention unbound (but not necessarily unpledged).

Now, that leaves a couple of items to note. First, this is quite reminiscent of the 2012 Louisiana delegate allocation rules with regard to at-large delegates. The congressional district delegates were unbound in Louisiana four years ago. But second, there likely will not be such a large number of unallocated delegates. Again, by March 5 there is likely to have been some winnowing of the field. With that shrinking of the field, the chances of a smaller group of candidates qualifying for delegates -- more than one but fewer than five -- increases.

But even if that threshold is relaxed to 10% -- so that both Trump and Bush, using the polling data above, qualify for delegates -- the three of them only add to 52% of the vote. That means that, depending on the rounding by the LAGOP Executive Committee, approximately 48% of the at-large delegates (13 delegates of 28) would be unallocated to candidates and thus unbound for the national convention.

Is that hugely consequential? In the grand scheme of things -- the race to 1237 -- probably not. However, this is yet another little wildcard to file away for when the process gets to Louisiana. But the bottom line is that this seemingly was a move by the Louisiana Republican Party to comply with the RNC rules, but retain something similar to the way the party had allocated delegates in the past. Then again, perhaps LAGOP was not that sophisticated.

Delegate allocation (congressional district delegates)
Where the state party lost some discretion on that score is in the allocation of congressional district delegates. Four years ago, those delegates were elected in congressional district caucuses and were left unbound heading into the national convention in Tampa. For 2016, those delegates will selected at the state convention based on the results of the March 5 primary in each of the six congressional districts in the Pelican state.

The same 20% threshold to qualify for at-large delegates does not apply to the allocation of congressional district delegates. Instead, there is no qualifying threshold. Again, as has been mentioned elsewhere, there are only so many ways to proportionally allocate three congressional district delegates. Even with no threshold, then, this type of allocation tends to function as if it was a top three system: the top three candidates all are allocated one delegate. The exception is if one candidate wins a majority of the vote within a congressional district. In that case, such a candidate would round up and qualify for two delegates.4 Whether a candidate reaches that majority threshold, though, greatly depends on the extent to which the field has winnowed ahead of the Louisiana primary.

At-large and congressional district delegates who are bound to candidates will be bound to them only on the first ballot of the roll call nomination vote in Cleveland (see Rule 4f). Furthermore, delegates of candidates who have suspended their campaign are no longer bound to those candidates on that initial roll call vote.

State allocation rules are archived here.

1 The 20% threshold is used by the Louisiana Republican Party to determine which candidates qualify for the statewide, at-large delegates. Though the party rules state that there are just 23 at-large delegates, citing Rule 14, there are 25 at-large delegates apportioned to the state by virtue of the RNC rules. The congressional district delegates are allocated to candidates based on the vote within those districts but with no threshold.

2 This poll is being used as an example of how delegates could be allocated under these new rules in Louisiana and not as a forecast of the outcome in the Pelican state primary.

3 More alarming, perhaps, is that there is no provision spelling out the allocation process if no candidate clears 20%.

4 That is something of a leap in reasoning considering that the rounding rules are unspecified. If the rounding is always up, regardless of the fraction, then a candidate could round up to two delegates with just a little less than 34% of the vote in a congressional district. All that is known for sure is that the Executive Committee does not explicitly have the same latitude in the rounding of congressional district delegates as it does in at-large delegates.

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