Sunday, March 20, 2016

2016 Republican Delegate Allocation: UTAH

This is part thirty-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: caucus
Date: March 22 
Number of delegates: 40 [25 at-large, 12 congressional district, 3 automatic]
Allocation method: proportional (but with statewide winner-take-all trigger)
Threshold to qualify for delegates: 15%
2012: winner-take-all primary

Changes since 2012
The presidential nomination process has been all over the map in Utah for the last five years. State law called for a February presidential primary back in 2011 but only if the state funded that election. The legislature did not fund that (would-have-been non-compliant) election for 2012, but did have to alter the law to add a presidential line to the June primary ballot for state and local offices. Even then, there were discussions about moving the primary to March (which never came to fruition).

Yes, all of this happened before 2012, but that same type of pattern carried over to the 2016 cycle as well. The same February option was there for state legislators in the Beehive state, but funding of that election was never considered after 2012. However, a 2014 bill to move the Utah primary into a first in the nation slot on the calendar ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire passed the state House before getting lost in the shuffle of last-day negotiations on the state Senate side.

Once that fizzled, actors within both state parties as well as the legislature were left with a late June presidential primary that failed to comply with either national parties' delegate selection rules. It was too late on the calendar; too close to the conventions.

After a failed attempt in 2015 to move the non-compliant June primary to March, both Utah state parties were forced to shift to caucuses, and both opted for March 22 dates that aligned with the primary in neighboring Arizona.

But for Utah Republicans the switch to caucuses (and an earlier contest) was not the only change for 2016. Despite settling on a date that was outside of the proportionality window, the Utah Republican Party chose to adopt a more proportional allocation plan in lieu of the party's traditional winner-take-all formula.

The Utah Republican Party version of proportional requires that a candidate win 15 percent of the statewide vote in order to qualify for a share of the 40 delegates. All 40 delegates, regardless of at-large, congressional district or automatic status, are pooled and allocated based on the statewide vote in the caucuses.

Additionally, there is a provision in the Utah Republican Party rules prohibiting a backdoor winner-take-all allocation scenario. If fewer than three candidates surpass the 15 percent threshold then the threshold is dropped and the allocation becomes truly proportional.

With caucuses planned as late as the Utah Republican caucuses are -- after the point on the calendar where 50 percent of the delegates will have been allocated -- the field of candidates is likely to have winnowed. That opens the door to a couple of possibilities. First, as the field of candidates shrinks, the chances that the winner-take-all trigger will be tripped rises. Any candidate who wins a majority of the statewide vote qualifies to be allocated all 40 Utah delegates.

But the odds of winner-take-all trigger being activated only increase to a certain point. Given the backdoor winner-take-all prevention provision described above, the field shrinking also means that the odds that the 15 percent threshold will be removed are still high under certain circumstances. For example, in a three person race -- one in which one candidate is approaching (but still under) the 50 percent winner-take-all trigger, another is hovering around the 15 percent qualifying threshold and another is clearly above the 15 percent barrier -- the 15 percent threshold disappears and the allocation becomes truly proportional. [More on this in the next section.]

Delegate allocation (at-large, congressional district and automatic delegates)
Utah Republicans will use an allocation equation that divides the qualifying candidate's share of the statewide vote by the total number of qualifying votes (only the votes of those candidates above the 15 percent threshold). That equation is coupled with a rounding method that favors candidates at the top end of the order. Fractional delegates are all rounded up and in a sequence from the top votegetter to the last qualifying candidate. Operationally, the top votegetters statewide will have their delegates rounded up and the final qualifier will be left with whatever scraps there are.

In a large field with numerous qualifying candidates that rounding method may keep a final qualifier out of the delegates altogether. However, a smaller field may net the last qualifier some delegates, but a larger delegate deficit relative to the winner depending on the winner's share of the vote. That is more likely to be the case in a multi-qualifier field of three than in a two qualifier scenario.

Yet, if only two candidates qualify and no one receives a majority, the allocation method changes. Under the provisions described above, if only two candidates clear the 15 percent threshold, then the allocation shifts to a truly proportional method with no threshold. That alters the allocation equation; switching out the total qualifying vote as the denominator for the total overall vote (for all candidates appearing on the ballot). That would not only bring the third candidate in the scenario above (see Thresholds section) back into the delegates but others as well.

To proportionally allocate all of the delegates as called for in the Utah Republican rules, all of the candidates on the ballot become much more likely to receive delegates. Again, the rounding is always up, so fractional delegates become whole delegates. And the process is sequential. The allocation will go on down the line until all of the delegates are allocated.

For example, in the current race in Utah, Cruz appears to be approaching the majority mark in some polls. But if the Texas senator does not get there and Katich's presence in Utah hurts both Cruz and Trump, then Donald Trump may fail to get to 15 percent. In that instance the allocation becomes truly proportional. Furthermore, it means that suspended candidates like Bush and Rubio or Paul and Huckabee could also round up to a full delegate with only very few votes. That is the only the way the allocation can work in full under the rules.

But that brings this to how the binding works.

The above method of rounding greatly simplifies matters by eliminating the prospect of over- and under-allocated delegates. Utah Republicans have also similarly simplified the binding of delegates compared to other states. All 40 delegates are or will be bound throughout the Republican nomination process. The only question is who those delegates are bound to. That can change.


Utah, like Alaska, reallocates the delegates of candidates who have dropped out of the race to any still-active candidates. Unlike the process in Alaska, Utah Republicans do this throughout the process until there is a Republican nominee. If, for example there are three candidates -- Candidate A, Candidate B and Candidate C -- all of whom qualify for and win delegates in the Utah caucuses, then those delegates are bound to those candidates as long as the candidates are still in the race.

If Candidate C drops out at any point, his or her delegates are proportionally reallocated to Candidate A and Candidate B based on the statewide results in the March 22 caucuses. Those delegates would be bound to those two candidates, again, until there is a nominee.

If Candidate B were to drop out thereafter, then Candidate B's delegates would be reallocated to the remaining still-active candidates. In this hypothetical situation, only Candidate A is left. Candidate B's delegates -- which include at least some of Candidate C's delegates -- would be reallocated to Candidate A, who would have all 40 of the Utah delegates bound to him or her at that point.1

Unlike other states, Utah does not have a procedure for release. Delegates are reallocated instead. This prevents the bound-but-not-sympathetic delegate conflict entirely, but also tamps down on the potential for chaos in a contested convention environment by binding the delegates throughout. That the delegates are all bound throughout the process minimizes to some degree the importance of the delegate selection process in Utah.

Still, in the scenario where suspended candidates have been allocated delegates (described above in the Allocation section), those delegates are not reallocated until the national convention. Not being involved in the race "at the national convention" is the line drawn in the language of the Utah Republican rules to trigger a reallocation. That means that that only happens once -- at the convention -- rather than multiple times throughout primary season as candidates drop out.2

State allocation rules are archived here.

1 The one quirky loophole in the reallocation process is that there is nothing -- no language in the rules -- covering the possibility that a non-qualifying candidate becomes the presumptive nominee. In other words, how are the Utah delegates reallocated in the event that a candidate who did not qualify for Utah delegates -- a prerequisite for being reallocated delegates under the rules as the reallocation is done "in accordance to the rules of this section [Section 7.0 B on delegate allocation]" -- emerges as the last candidate standing at the national convention. This would apply to two types of candidates: 1) Candidate D, who ran but failed to qualify for delegates in the Utah primary or 2) Candidate E, who after multiple ballots at the convention is inserted as a consensus candidate but who did not compete for votes in Utah or any other states during the primary phase.

Simplifying, assume that Candidate D is someone like Donald Trump. The New York real estate tycoon is not expected to do well in the Utah caucuses. He could even fall short of the qualifying threshold to receive any delegates. Yet, he has enough delegates from other states so far to be a factor if not the ultimate nominee at the national convention. It isn't clear in the Utah rules as written that the delegates could be reallocated to him.

The same is true if Candidate E is someone like Mitt Romney, who could hypothetically be put forth after a number of inconclusive roll call votes at the convention as a, again, hypothetical consensus candidate. Like Trump above, Romney did not qualify for delegates in the caucuses and theoretically could not be reallocated those delegates.

There is no clear release procedure, and there is an additional lack of clarity over whether the Utah delegates would become unbound in that case or bound to a presumptive nominee.

2 Yes, that runs counter to how the example was described above, but that type of description was necessary in order to lay the groundwork for the description of the full impact of the reallocation rules in the first footnote above.

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Anonymous said...

So this means if it's Cruz, 55%, Kasich, 35%, and Trump 10%, the fact that Trump is below 15% negates the 50% winner-take-all rule?

Josh Putnam said...

No. Only if no one is above 50% or only 2 (or fewer) are above 15% does the allocation become truly proportional.