Monday, March 2, 2015

Is the Florida Republican Presidential Primary Winner-Take-All?

UPDATE (5/16/15): The answer seems to be yes, but we're still waiting on the language of the rules change from the Republican Party of Florida.

That all depends.

By all accounts, there is momentum in Florida to facilitate the conditions under which a winner-take-all presidential primary can take place in 2016. The Republican Party of Florida chair likes the idea of a winner-take-all method of delegate allocation. The Republican-controlled state legislature in the Sunshine state is moving to create some long-absent certainty with the primary date. That -- setting the primary date specifically for March 15 -- would allow Florida Republicans to allocate the 99 delegates apportioned them in a winner-take-all fashion under the Republican National Committee rules governing the 2016 presidential nomination process.

But will Florida Republicans allocate all 99 delegates to the winner of the 2016 presidential primary?

That remains to be seen. And it would actually require a rules change on the state party level in order to make that happen. The delegate allocation plans used in both 2008 and 2012 were only truly winner-take-all in the event that the Republican Party of Florida was penalized by the RNC.1 The non-compliant January primary triggered that state party provision in 2008 and history repeated itself four years later in 2012 when Florida again defied the RNC rules and held a January primary.2

Under the rules used in 2012, Florida Republicans would not allocate all of their delegates to the winner of the presidential primary. Instead the allocation would be a bit more complicated.

To fully explain this, we need to look at how delegates are apportioned to the each of the states from the Republican National Committee.3 The formula used by the RNC gives three (3) delegates for each congressional district in a state and ten (10) at-large delegates.4 Additionally, states receive bonus delegates for a recent history of voting with the Republican Party. This provides a greater voice to loyally Republican states at least as compared to states that are either more competitive between the two major parties or are more Democratic. A good illustration of this is that in 2012 a more populous yet more competitive state like Ohio had fewer total delegates than a slightly less populous yet more Republican state like Georgia. Those bonus delegates are tacked onto the at-large total.

The important factor to note here is that there is a distinction between at-large and congressional district delegates.

Of the states that have delegate allocation plans somewhere on the spectrum between truly winner-take-all rules and truly proportional rules, a number tend to allocate the three congressional district delegates to the winner of the congressional district and then allocate the at-large delegates either proportionally or winner-take-all based on the statewide vote.5 Those states, then, draw that distinction between congressional district and at-large delegates in their allocation plans as derived from the RNC apportionment.

Importantly, Florida has not followed that pattern in the last two presidential election cycles. And that would have been true with or without the sanctions from the RNC. With the penalties, the Florida delegate selection rules called for a winner-take-all allocation of the full delegation to the winner of the statewide primary. All of those delegates were considered at-large.

But let's assume for a moment for the sake of this exercise that Florida was not penalized in 2008 or 2012. The truly winner-take-all provision would not have been triggered and the Florida delegate allocation would have looked different. Neither McCain nor Romney would have won the full (yet reduced due to penalty) delegation. Yet, the allocation in Florida would not have resembled RNC apportionment-derived type of allocation described above.

Instead, Florida would have used a different formula. Assuming no penalties from the RNC, Florida Republicans would have considered one-third of its total allotment of delegates to have been at-large. The remaining two-thirds would have been deemed congressional district delegates.

That is all different from the RNC apportionment-derived method used in most other states. To illustrate, consider this: Florida will have 99 delegates for the 2016 cycle. If Florida was like other states, Republicans there would be apportioned 81 congressional district delegates (3 delegates per each of 27 congressional districts) by the RNC and the remaining 18 would be at-large delegates. Most states using a winner-take-all by congressional district method would treat the congressional district-apportioned delegates as congressional district delegates. In other words, if a candidate wins the district, then the the winning candidate is awarded three delegates.

Florida Republicans do not sync their congressional district-apportioned delegates with the allocation of what they call congressional district delegates.

Under the one-third/two-thirds method Florida Republicans would have used in the even they were not sanctioned in 2008 or 2012, the ratio of congressional district delegates to at-large delegates would be different. As an example, let's use the same 99 delegate total from above.
  • One third of that total comprises the at-large pool of delegates. 33 at-large delegates.
  • The remaining two-thirds are congressional district delegates. 66 congressional district delegates.
  • However, 66 congressional district delegates are not able to be evenly distributed across 27 congressional districts. The rounding down mentioned above matter less in the aggregate total than it does at this point in the calculation. 66/27 = 2.44 delegates per congressional district. That number is rounded down and the remainder is added to the at-large pool of delegates. 
  • So, that essentially equates to two (2) delegates per each of the 27 congressional district in Florida. (2.44-0.44)*27 = 54 congressional district delegates.
  • That remainder is then added to the at-large pool. 33 original at-large delegates + (0.44 rounded/fractional delegates*27 congressional districts) = 45 at-large delegates.
  • That means Florida ends up not with a 2:1 congressional district to at-large delegates ratio, but a 6:5 ratio. 
The intent in all of this is not to add mathematical confusion to the delegate allocation equation. Rather, the idea is to redistribute the impact of the vote in the Florida primary. It places more emphasis on winning the statewide vote than on the 27 elections across the congressional districts. That is a lot closer to a truly winner-take-all allocation than if each of the congressional district delegates made up 81 of 99 total delegates. But it still is not a truly winner-take-all allocation. There can be variation in the winners across each of those congressional districts. And that, in turn, means that one candidate will not necessarily win the full delegation.

Will Florida Republicans' allocation look like the above in 2016 or will it be a truly winner-take-all contest as it was in 2008 and 2012? To be the latter, the Republican Party of Florida will have to make a change to its delegate selection/allocation rules. Media outlet after media outlet is reporting that Florida is attempting to solidify the March 15 date for the presidential primary as a means of assuring a winner-take-all plan. A true winner-take-all plan.

But FHQ is not entirely sure that is what Florida will end up with in 2016.

If one reads the fine print in the Bill Analysis and Fiscal Impact Statement for SB 7036 -- the bill to set March 15 as the Florida presidential primary date -- one will see that Rule 10 was revised in January 2014. What that revision entails is unknown.6 Does it mean a truly winner-take-all allocation for Florida Republicans?

FHQ would argue no.

The current Florida statute regarding the parameters of the presidential primary also state the following:
Any party rule directing the vote of delegates at a national nominating convention shall reasonably reflect the results of the presidential preference primary, if one is held.
Yes, that is somewhat ambiguous. But "reasonably reflect the results" is being interpreted in Florida as a mandate for some form of proportionality. But perhaps it would be better to say that the mandate is against a true winner-take-all allocation method. The net result is not going to be anything approaching a proportionate allocation based on the results of the primary. What is does is open the door to multiple candidates receiving delegates from the Florida primary. But winning any delegates would be dependent upon winning the vote in a congressional district.

At this point, FHQ is skeptical that Florida will award all 99 delegates to one candidate in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination race. That skepticism is driven by 1) the entire discussion above and 2) the uncertainty with regard to the changes the Republican Party of Florida made to Rule 10 in January 2014.

Even with those changes, though, it looks as if Florida Republicans are not all the way to the winner-take-all end of the proportional to winner-take-all delegate allocation spectrum. The plan seems to be pretty close, but not truly winner-take-all. That not only breaks from the allocation in 2008 and 2012, but subtly breaks from the conventional wisdom about Florida Republican delegate allocation.

1 Rule 10.M of the Republican Party of Florida, Party Rules of Procedure grants:
In the event that the Republican National Convention refuses to seat the full allotment of Florida delegates, all remaining delegates shall be Delegates at Large and shall be selected by the Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida from the original delegation.
And due to the fact that Rule 10.B calls for all at-large delegates to be allocated to the winner of the statewide vote, Florida's penalized total of delegates in 2008 and 2012 were allocated to the statewide winner of the primary.

2 Interestingly, the decision by the state legislature-created Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee to schedule a January primary brought on a 50% penalty from the RNC which in turn triggered a truly winner-take-all allocation method that also broke with Republican National Committee delegate selection rules. That, too, should have cost Florida Republicans 50% of their delegates. However, the 50% penalty could only be levied once under RNC rules. Sequentially, it was primary date that first prompted the RNC penalty.

3 See Rule 14 of the Rules of the Republican Party.

4 Those ten base, at-large delegates are based on the number of US senators a state has. Each state has two and each senate slot receives five (5) delegates. In this way, both across congressional district  and at-large delegates, the Republican National Committee apportionment is intended to mimic representation in the US Congress.

5 See Maryland and Ohio for examples of this in 2012.

6 One of the great tragedies of studying elections is the variation in standards across states, whether state government or state party information. Some states are more willing to share than others. Some states post everything online for voters and party members to access. Others do not. The Republican Party of Florida fits in the second category. The rules of the party are nowhere to be found. ...on their web page. County party websites work occasionally, but the state party is less than forthcoming with rules information.

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