Sunday, December 27, 2015

2016 Republican Delegate Allocation: WYOMING

This is part sixteen 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: caucus
Date: March 1
Number of delegates: 29 [23 at-large, 3 congressional district, 3 automatic]
Allocation method: determined by state and/or county convention(s) or left unbound
Threshold to qualify for delegates: n/a
2012: non-binding caucuses

Changes since 2012
As FHQ argued at the outset of the discussion of the Vermont Republican Party plan to allocate delegates for 2016, there are only so many ways to allocate a small number of delegates. That is probably less an issue of the total number of delegates than it is a function of a lack of congressional districts to divide up the allocation in various ways. That is the case in Wyoming as well. With the state being its own congressional district -- like in Vermont -- there are few alternatives to pooling all of the delegates and allocating them in a manner consistent with the national party guidelines (which is to say proportionally for any contest before March 15).

Wyoming Republicans, however, have chosen one of those alternatives.

And the decision to travel a route different than a pre-March 15 proportionality plan was seemingly made with an eye toward preserving the standard delegate selection operating procedure than anything else. And honestly, that is a fairly common state-level reaction to national party delegate rules tweaking; taking the path of least resistance. Stated differently, if it ain't (too) broke, don't fix it.

Traditionally, Wyoming Republicans have allocated about half of their total allotment of delegates at county conventions and the other half at the state convention. But in the face of rules changes at the RNC level for the 2016 cycle, Equality state Republicans were presented with a couple of issues. First, the party has tended to, according to state party bylaw, held the first step of the caucus/convention process -- the precinct caucuses before March. However, Wyoming Republicans 1) held a presidential preference vote/straw poll at those first step caucuses, but 2) did not allocate or elect delegates at that stage.

The straw poll prior to March is a no-go under the new RNC delegate selection rules, specifically because of the new requirement to bind delegates. Without that preference vote, though, Wyoming Republicans are able to conduct their precinct caucuses on or before March 1.

Those precinct caucuses feed into the March 12 county caucuses that will, in turn, continue to elect delegates to the national convention. Again, like Vermont, there is but one congressional district that encompasses all of Wyoming. Unlike Vermont, Wyoming Republicans make a clearer attempt at electing delegates to the national convention from across the state. The standard operating procedure the party has traditionally used has been to pair each of its 23 counties with another.1 In one cycle, one of the counties in the pair selects a national convention delegate and the other selects an alternate. For the following cycle, the two counties in the pair switch roles. So, a county that elected an alternate in 2012 will choose a national convention delegate in 2016.

That process has carried over from previous cycles to 2016, but the most marked difference in Wyoming for 2016 is the nixing of the straw poll vote at the precinct caucus level. Yes, that theoretically allows the party to maintain an unbound delegation, but the true intent behind the removal of the preference vote was to both stay compliant with the RNC rules and maintain the bulk of the traditional delegate selection process in the Equality state.

Delegate allocation/Binding 
In practice, the lack of a straw poll means Wyoming is similar to Colorado but without the messy backstory. Some of the delegates to the national convention -- 12 of them -- will be elected at the March 12 county conventions throughout Wyoming (as opposed to congressional district conventions in Colorado). The remaining 14 delegates -- essentially at-large delegates -- will be elected at the April 14-16 state convention.

Like Colorado, sequence matters in Wyoming. Delegate candidates at both the county conventions and the state convention must file paperwork with either the county party chairperson or the state chairman before the respective conventions pledging to a particular candidate. The language on both forms is specific but does not preclude a delegate candidate from remaining unpledged.2 Regardless, delegate candidates who have pledged to a particular presidential candidate will be bound to that candidate at the national convention. The only unbound delegates would be those who commit to being uncommitted to a particular presidential candidate.

Again, the sequence is important here. Delegates to the national convention will be chosen on March 12. Another group will be elected on April 16. Those delegates will be locked in at those points. That March date is early enough that delegates could be chosen and bound to candidates who subsequently withdraw from the race. The Rule 16(f) filing Wyoming Republicans submitted to the RNC laying out their rules for delegate selection do not explain any process for the release delegates in the event that the candidate to whom they are pledged drops out of the race. That said, the delegates at the April state convention are responsible for ratifying the delegates selected at the county convention level (in addition to electing 14 at-large delegates).

Ultimately, though, the delegate candidates eventually chosen will be bound by the pledge form submitted at the county convention or state convention stage. 

The automatic delegates -- the state party chair, national committeeman and national committeewoman -- from Wyoming are not explicitly unbound according to the state party bylaws. That has been the case in the past, but FHQ was informed in recent conversations with the Republican National Committee that Rule 16(a)(1) binds all delegates from a delegation. The only exception is for delegates elected directly (on the ballot). That does not include party/automatic delegates. How those delegates are allocated/bound when the state rules are not clear on their allocation is a bit of an unknown and something of a wildcard.

In the end, the Wyoming Republican Party delegate selection plan is more like Colorado's than anything else. Those registered Republicans willing to invest the time necessary to make it through each step of the process are more likely to be activists within the state party than passersby only tangentially interested in the presidential race. That has an impact on turnout and eventually the outcome of the delegate selection process. It tends to, consistent with the Meinke, et al. conclusion, grant the state party more control over the process.

But this one is less open -- not to mention unbound -- than was discussed back in early October when the RNC revealed the state-level rules. Wyoming Republican delegates will be bound to the presidential candidate to whom they have pledged heading into the conventions where those delegates are chosen.

State allocation rules are archived here.

1 Laramie County is the odd numbered, 23rd county in all of this that selects both a delegate and an alternate every cycle.

2 That pledge is as follows:
As a candidate for the office of Delegate to National Convention, I hereby declare that I am supporting and will cast my vote at National Convention for ______________________________________ as the Republican Nominee for the office of Presidentof the United States. With this declaration I ask for the support of the voters in my County Convention/Delegates to the Wyoming State Convention.

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