This is part forty-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: May 10
Number of delegates: 34 [22 at-large, 9 congressional district, 3 automatic]
Allocation method: loophole primary/winner-take-all
Threshold to qualify for delegates: n/a
2012: loophole primary
Changes since 2012
The basic structure of the West Virginia Republican method of allocating, selecting and binding delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention is the same as it was in 2012. The real election is still for the delegate candidates -- both at-large and in each of the three congressional districts -- directly elected on the primary ballot. In that way, the Mountain state is like Illinois (congressional district) before it. Delegate candidates file (or are filed by one of the presidential campaigns) to run for one of the 31 vacant delegate slots. Like Illinois, those delegate candidates are listed on the ballot with the presidential candidate's name (or uncommitted) next to theirs, and if elected are bound to that candidate at the convention.
Unlike the system out west in the Land of Lincoln, though, West Virginia Republicans elect both congressional district delegates and delegates at-large. The full allotment of at-large and congressional district delegates, then, is selected through direct election and bound based on any candidate affiliation made when the delegate candidates filed to run.
One other difference the West Virginia delegate selection process has with the one Illinois Republicans use is based on a rules change the WVGOP instituted for the 2016 cycle. The crux of the change is that the at-large delegates are not all that at-large anymore; at least not in the way that they have been in the past. For the 2016 cycle, those at-large delegates have been districtized or rather more appropriately countyized.
Let me explain. At-large delegates are delegates that are intended to be the top however many votegetters statewide in any selection process, whether primary or caucus/convention. Every voter votes on those positions. In a truly at-large system, that can result in an overly homogenized outcome. And that homogeneity tends to benefit some majority faction. In turn, that means that some geographic/regional, racial or political minority is disadvantaged in the process. Those groups end up not being represented in the government positions or delegate slots being filled.
Having a mixed system with both an at-large component and a congressional district element, as West Virginia Republicans have traditionally had, can overcome that problem. Can being the operative word. Those district delegates are supposed to ensure that there is at least some representation on the national convention delegation from all corners of the state. However, in West Virginia, there are only a handful of congressional district delegates -- nine across three districts -- and that does not always serve as a counterweight to the more than twice as many at-large delegates.
If, for instance, there are nine delegates from across the state and then 22 others elected statewide but predominantly from one populous area of the state, then the ultimate delegation is potentially lacking in diversity.1 This seems to have been the case with West Virginia delegations to past Republican National Conventions. More populous areas were simply overly represented on the delegation. In some respects, that is supposed to be the case, but the needle was pushed more toward a delegation predominantly made up of delegates from only a few concentrated areas.
By adding a new rule for 2016, the West Virginia Republican Party has attempted to better calibrate the representativeness of its delegation. New for this cycle, then, are restrictions on the selection of at-large delegates. There will be a fuller discussion of the exact nature of the effect of these changes below, but suffice it to say, those restrictions are intended to bring about a more regionally balanced West Virginia delegation.
As the delegates are directly elected in West Virginia, there are no thresholds that a candidate must reach in order to qualify for delegates. For the presidential candidates, banking bound delegates is entirely dependent upon whether delegate candidates affiliated with them are elected.
Delegate allocation (at-large delegates)
Contrary to how the process has worked in the past, the selection/election and allocation of at-large delegates in West Virginia for 2016 is not truly at-large. There are a couple of restrictions the WVGOP has newly placed on the selection of at-large delegates:
- After the top finisher -- the delegate candidate with the most votes statewide -- the top seven at-large finishers from each of the three congressional districts will win slots to the national convention.
- Additionally, there can be no more than two at-large delegates from any one county with the exception, again, of the top at-large delegate candidate votegetter statewide.
There are also campaign strategic ramifications from this change. Rather than having the freedom to quickly go into a state and assemble an unrestricted slate of delegates as campaigns have done in the past, 2016 campaigns have to be an order of magnitude more savvy about the process. There are additional hoops to jump through in terms of cobbling together a slate of delegate candidates who reside in areas more uniformly distributed across districts and without too many from one county. Without wide support across a state, then, a campaign has to rely on a deeper level of connection and organization within the state of West Virginia in order to put together a winning and ultimately eligible delegation.
Those campaigns that do not pay attention to detail run the risk of having delegate candidates win more votes than other candidates, but losing out to popular losers because of potential regional clustering. The slate is too concentrated in one area, in other words, and thus does not qualify even if individual candidates from it receive more votes. If one presidential candidate has nine delegate candidates from one county, for example, then only two (or three if one of them is the top statewide finisher) would be able to sit in the final delegation.2
Delegate allocation (congressional district delegates)
Unlike the selection and allocation of the at-large delegates, the choosing of the congressional district delegates is more simplistic. There are no restrictions placed on the selection of those delegates. The top three finishers in each district -- among the congressional district delegate candidates3 -- are the three delegates who will represent the district at the national convention.
Delegate allocation (automatic delegates)
Finally, as opposed to past years, the West Virginia presidential preference vote in the primary will actually mean something. However, the upgrade is a minor one at best. As has been the case in a number of other states, the historical pattern has been to leave the three automatic delegates each state has unbound. A change in the binding rules and a further interpretation of them by the RNC general counsel's office has required states will ambiguous rules (with respect to the allocation of those party delegates) to allocate and bind them based on the statewide results. In most cases, that means treating those automatic delegates as if they are at-large delegates.
In West Virginia's case, though, that is impossible. The at-large delegates are directly elected on the primary ballot. Those automatic delegates are not. In such a scenario -- and it is a unique on to West Virginia -- those delegates are to be allocated to the statewide winner.
The winner of the preference vote -- typically a beauty contest vote -- will be allocated all three party delegates to add on to however many other aligned delegates have been elected.
There is some dispute over this between the RNC and the WVGOP, but the delegates are bound to the winning candidate (automatic delegates) or to the presidential candidate with whom they affiliated when filing to run as a delegate candidate. That bond, according to the RNC holds until the delegate is released. This is not a new interpretation on the part of the RNC. West Virginia delegates were similarly treated in 2012 as well: bound until released. The state party may be trying to toe the line in terms of talking up their unbound delegation, but the RNC will be treating them as bound at the Cleveland convention (unless the rules, particularly Rule 16, are changed).
State allocation rules are archived here.
1 Lacking and diversity are, of course, in the eye of the beholder in this case. One person's perception of diversity is another's conception of unfairness.
2 Most of these problems have been rectified by the Trump campaign dipping into some uncommitted delegate reserves aligned with the campaign.
3 Bear in mind that there are still distinct pools of delegate candidates here. There remain at-large and congressional district delegate candidates despite the restrictions placed on the election of the at-large delegates.
2016 Republican Delegate Allocation: NEBRASKA
2016 Republican Delegate Allocation: INDIANA