Saturday, February 13, 2016

A Primer on the 2016 Tennessee Republican National Convention Delegate Selection process

If you are voting in the upcoming Republican primary, when you go to the polls you will not only see the names of the various candidates running for the Republican Party presidential nomination, but you will also see the names of dozens of people seeking to be selected as delegates in order to attend the Republican National  Convention.  Next to their name it will state to which candidate the person is committed.

Below is primer on understanding the Tennessee Republican convention delegate selection process. State law, the national Republican Party rules, and the State Republican Party rules determine how delegates are selected and how they must vote once they are selected.  I used the term "selected" intentionally, because not all delegates are elected. Very few people, including some of the people running as delegates, really understand the process. Read the below primer and the process will make more sense. If you read it slowly and think about it, it is understandable, but it is not simple.

This primer was prepared by two knowledgeable local Republican activist who have both previously been to conventions and who are again running as delegates to attend this year's convention.  One is pledged to Trump and the other is pledged to Rubio and I will be voting for both of of these delegate candidates. The following is their work. Where I have interjected remarks, I have set those remarks in parenthesis in dark red typeface and italics.  At the end of this essay, I have placed a "#" mark to indicate the end of the essay. Following the "#" is a resumption of my remarks.
 Primer on 2016 Tennessee Republican National Convention Delegate Selection
(Note: Delegate allocation and selection varies considerably by state and territory.  The information below pertains only to Tennessee.)

Tennessee is allocated 58 delegates per the Republican National Committee rules
  • 3 are the State Party Chairman, National Committeeman and National Committeewoman,
  •  14 at large delegates elected on the primary ballot (These candidates will have beside their name, the name of candidate for president they are supporting.  When voting, you can select some delegates committed to candidate X and some committed to candidate Y and others committed to candidate Z, and mix them up any way you want.)
  •  3 (total 27) delegates elected on the primary ballot in each Congressional District (When you vote you will  only see candidates for you congressional district, so for most people who live in Nashville, you will see the names of delegates who are running as a delegate from the 5th Congressional District.)
  • 14 at large delegates appointed by the state party with the advice of Presidential candidates (These names are not on the ballot. These are usually high dignitaries. The Governor will go and maybe some super big contributors and some other elected officials and maybe former elected officials.)
At Large Delegate Allocation
  • A Presidential candidate must receive at least 20% of the vote to win any delegate (unless no candidates have 20%)
  • If no Presidential candidate receives 20%, the delegates are proportionally allocated among all Presidential candidates according to their vote
  •  If only one  Presidential candidate receives 20% of the vote, that Presidential candidate receives all 28 at large delegates
  • If a Presidential candidate receives 2/3 of the vote, that Presidential candidate receives all 28 at large delegates
  • If more than one Presidential candidate receives 20% of the vote, those Presidential candidates receive delegates proportionally distributed 
Congressional District Allocation
  • If 1 Presidential candidate receives 2/3 or only one Presidential candidate gets 20% of the District vote, that candidate gets all 3 delegates 
  •  If 2 or more Presidential candidates get 20%, the highest vote getter receives 2 delegates and the next highest gets 1
  •  Otherwise, the top 3 Presidential candidates get 1 delegate each
Names of Presidential Candidates are listed alphabetically followed by “Uncommitted” designation
Names of Presidential Candidates (alphabetical) with names of delegate candidates (alphabetical) are then listed. (To see a sample ballot follow this link)

Voters may vote for: 
  • 1 candidate for President
  • 14 at large delegate candidates mix or match anywhere on the 
  •  3 Congressional District delegate candidates
  • Delegate candidate votes do not have to correspond to the Presidential candidate vote cast
Republican National Committee (2012).  The Rules of the Republican Party as adopted by the 2012 Republican National Convention, Tampa, Fl.  August 27, 2012.  Amended by the Republican National Committee on April 12, 2013, January 24, 2014, May 9, 2014, and August 8, 2014.
Tennessee Republican Party Bylaws

Prepared by: Martha Ruth Brown, Trump Delegate Candidate at large
Beth Campbell, SEC District 20, Rubio Delegate Candidate at large
Note that those running at-large are running state-wide and those running as congressional delegates are not effected by the allocation of at-large delegates. So, if candidate X wins the state by over 2/3rds of the votes cast he gets all 14 delegates, but in the 5th Congressional District if candidate Y wins 2/3rds of the vote, he gets the 3 delegates running in the 5th Congressional District who were pledged to candidate Y.

In addition to everything said above, there are also alternates selected and allocated in the same manner. So, if one candidate gets all 14 at-large delegates, another 14 delegates get to go to the convention pledged to that candidate, but they do not get to cast a vote.  They only would get to vote if the elected delegate, for some reason, does not attend the convention or is disqualified. Alternates still go to the parties and cheer from the floor for the convention TV show, they just don't get to vote.

This is confusing, right? Don't worry too much about it. If you just want to vote for your candidate for president and skip voting for any delegates, then do that. Your vote will still count.

One might think that if you are supporting candidate X then you would want to vote only for delegates committed to candidate X, however that is not necessarily so. It is not quite that simple to wisely select who you want to send to the convention as a delegate.  Even if you are supporting candidate X, you may want to vote for some delegates pledged to candidate Y and Z.  Unless candidate X gets all of the delegates, then some who are pledged to other candidates are going to the convention anyway, so if you cast all of your votes for delegate candidates pledged to candidate  X, then you have wasted some of your votes. Even if a particular delegate pledged to X gets more votes than a delegate pledged to Y, that does not mean that that particular candidate pledged to X gets to go to the convention.  Think of it like this: delegates pledged to candidate X or running against other delegate candidates pledged to candidate X; they are not running against delegate candidates pledged to candidate Y and Z.

Also, delegates do more than just vote for the Presidential nominee.  They vote on the party platform and on rules that determine how the convention operates in the next election and they may vote on resolutions stating policy positions of the party.  Also, there might be some good Republicans who have worked long and hard to serve the Party and you may just feel they deserve the opportunity to attend a convention.

Also, If you are voting for candidate X, you may not know 14 of the delegates pledged to that candidate. If you are like me, you may only know a few of them.  However, you may know someone pledged to a different candidate and know the person to be competent and good Republicans.  So, if their candidate gets any delegates you might prefer that it be the person you know going to the convention rather than someone you do not know.

Just because you can vote for 14 at-large delegates, keep in mind that does not mean you have to do so and if you vote for fewer candidates then the votes you do cast have more weight. If candidate X wins 2/3 of he vote then he gets all 14 delegates. The first 14 who got the most votes would become candidate X's delegates.  So, as a voter, if instead of voting for 14, you only vote for one, your vote is worth 14 times the weight of someone who cast 14 votes. By voting for fewer people your vote is less deluded.

When delegates get to the convention, what happens?  For the first two ballots, Tennessee delegates are required to vote for the candidate for whom they are pledged. So what could happen between first and second ballot?  Tennessee requires delegates to vote for the candidate to which they are pledged for the first two ballots, most states however require a delegate to only vote the way he is pledged for only the first ballot only. So, the roll call of the delegates could be different in other states and that could produce a different outcome.  So what happens if we still have not selected our nominee after the second ballot? Then, Tennessee delegates may vote however they want. What would probably happens is that if candidate Z is still in the running but he knows he cannot win, he would withdraw and throw his support behind candidate X or Y.  Those delegates pledged to candidate Z are not required to vote for the candidate that Z endorses however, but most probably would do so.  There are even other things that could happen that could make it more murky but the above is the essentials of how delegates are selected and how they exercise their vote.

If a candidate does not win on the first ballot and certainly if he does not win on the second ballot, then that is where the deal making happens in the proverbial "smoke filled rooms," however  these days the rooms are not really "smoke filled."  If a candidate does not win on the first ballot then that is what is called a "brokered convention."  Such has not happened in a long time but it is a real possibility this year. Deals may be made and votes cast based on the selection of the Vice Presidential nominee or pledges of future support or helping pay off campaign debt of a candidate or appointing of ambassadorships or pledging to support certain policy positions or any number of other considerations.

Democracy can be a messy thing.

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  1. THANK YOU! I've been looking all over for this information. I found a whole bunch of pages that explain how the NUMBER of delegates allocated to each candidate is figured, but I had the worst trouble finding out how SPECIFIC delegates were chosen. Your paragraph ("One might think that if you are supporting candidate X....") was exactly what I was looking for.

    One thing that's still not explained: What about the "Uncommitted" delegates on the ballot? How can they be chosen? What happens when voters cast votes for them?

    1. If you look at the list of Presidential nominee candidates you will also see that you may vote for "uncommitted." The way I understand it, the only way a delegate candidate running as "uncommitted" can go to the conventions is if enough people vote "uncommitted" for President for "uncommitted" to earn delegates. It is not going to happen. If people have no preference, they simply won't vote in the primary.