Monday, April 25, 2016

2016 Republican Delegate Allocation: RHODE ISLAND

This is part forty-three 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: April 26 
Number of delegates: 19 [10 at-large, 6 congressional district, 3 automatic]
Allocation method: proportional
Threshold to qualify for delegates: 10%
2012: proportional primary

Changes since 2012
Though Rhode Island Republicans still operate under the banner of proportional allocation in 2016, much has ever so slightly changed since 2012 about its method of proportionality. The Republican delegation in the Ocean state is just 19 deep, and as FHQ has often said this cycle there are only so many ways that a small group of delegates can be awarded to candidates. Some similarly small states have historically been to be as close to winner-take-all as possible so as to maximize whatever influence they have over the process. Others -- and perhaps most fit into this category -- stick with tradition and use some form of proportional allocation. Often that tradition is rooted in a loose tie to originally Democratic-passed measures to comply with the DNC proportionality mandate.

But again, Rhode Island Republicans have not always used a straight proportional method directly consistent with the Democratic Party rules. Instead they have settled for a number of variations. Four years ago, for example, the proportionate method utilized by the party pooled the delegates for the allocation process. However, they were selected differently. The three party delegates were unbound as many were across the country in 2012, but of the remaining 16, eight were directly elected from one district and eight from the other.

That shifts in 2016. This time around, the RIGOP will split the delegates by type -- at-large/automatic and congressional district -- and proportionally allocate them to candidates based on the statewide or district level vote respectively. That means that tiny Rhode Island will have just one delegate less than New York available based on the statewide result, but without a similar winner-take-all trigger. Additionally, Rhode Island will carry 25 fewer congressional districts and thus lack the extra 75 district delegates New York had to offer. Those delegates also come with no winner-take-all trigger.

The selection is also different. Rather than being elected at the district level as in 2012, the 10 at-large delegates will be elected statewide, and voters within each district will directly elect three district delegates (rather than all selected in the congressional districts and allocated based on the statewide vote).

Finally, while there were efforts to change to a March primary through the state legislature in 2015, the fourth Tuesday in April primary persisted. That kept Rhode Island tethered to a cluster of regional contests that lost New York from 2012, but added Maryland for 2016.

This could just as easily have been added to the section on changes, but the threshold for qualifying for delegates also changed. FHQ spoke in 2012 about how Rhode Island differed from some of its neighbors in having a 15 percent threshold rather than requiring 10 percent to qualify (as Massachusetts and New Hampshire had in 2012). That was then.

Four years later, Rhode Island Republicans have lowered their threshold to 10 percent, which will virtually assure that most of the viable candidates will qualify for some of the 19 delegates. That additionally greatly lowers the type of surplus that the winner of the primary should expect to take from the Ocean state.

There is no winner-take-all threshold, but there is also no prohibition of a backdoor winner-take-all outcome. However, with such a low threshold, such an allocation is highly unlikely.

Delegate allocation (at-large and automatic delegates)
There are perhaps more questions than answers in the Rhode Island Republican Party rules on delegate allocation. The proportional allocation is clear enough, but neither the allocation equation nor the rounding rules are specified.

With respect to the allocation of the at-large and automatic delegates, the sorts of issues that might arise based on rounding -- namely how many delegates a candidate should have -- are deferred to the Credentials Committee of the state party. Questions would be handled by that group according to Rule 3.03.b.

Delegate allocation (congressional district delegates)
The at-large allocation is not the only process that produces question marks. Allocating congressional districts under the Rhode Island Republican plan is also overly simplistic and lacking in contingencies for particular outcomes (particularly those where fewer than three candidates qualify for delegates).

The default setting is based on an assumption that three candidates will clear the 10 percent threshold within a congressional district. There is no rounding involved and all three (or the top three) candidate each receive one delegate. That is true in all cases unless the congressional district winner receives 67 percent of the vote. That is enough to claim two of the delegates rather than just one. But the language of the rule is that a winning candidate in such a scenario would receive "at least" two delegates. This implies there is some potential for even further expansion of the district allocation, but the details are not clear. It could simply mean that a candidate who has won at least 67 percent of the vote reduces the likelihood that another candidate has cleared the 10 percent threshold. But since there is no prohibition of a backdoor winner-take-all outcome, the "at least" seems superfluous.

The RIGOP Credentials Committee would have initial jurisdiction on any rounding-related questions here as with at-large delegates.

In another change from 2012, members of the Rhode Island delegation will be bound in 2016 to the candidate to whom they have been allocated either until released by the candidate or until one ballot ha been cast at the national convention. The first condition was true in the last cycle, but the first ballot provision replaced one that required a 75 percent vote among the delegates bound to a particular candidate to release themselves (if not released by the candidate).

As stated above delegates are directly elected from slates filed by the campaigns (or as uncommitted) rather than selected through a caucus/convention process. Not only do the candidate have some say in filing a slate of delegates, but there is added insurance in this selection process.

Take for instance a scenario in which Candidate A wins 50 percent statewide followed by Candidate B with 30 percent and Candidate C with 20 percent. Assume also that seven delegates on Candidate B's slate are the top delegate votegetters statewide and that Candidate C has the next three highest finishers. This seems like a situation where Candidate A would have five delegates bound to him or her that would likely abandon Candidate A after a hypothetical inconclusive first ballot.

While this can happen in some states, the Rhode Island Republican rules prevent that outcome, giving the candidates a firmer grasp on their delegates following the primary. In the scenario mentioned above, Candidate B would have the top three finishers from the Candidate B slate as his or her three allocated delegates. The remainder would become alternates. The same would happen for Candidate C. Candidate A's delegate slots would be filled by Candidate A slate delegates. The only "damage" done to Candidate A is in the alternate delegate count. The lower down the finishing order Candidate A's delegates are, the less likely it is that Candidate A would have any alternates.

But among the top line of delegates, Candidate A's positions are guaranteed (as are Candidate B's and  Candidate C's).

State allocation rules are archived here.

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