Monday, March 7, 2016

2016 Republican Delegate Allocation: MICHIGAN

This is part twenty-five 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: March 8
Number of delegates: 59 [14 at-large, 42 congressional district, 3 automatic]
Allocation method: proportional
Threshold to qualify for delegates: 15% (statewide)1
2012: proportional primary

Changes since 2012
There are actually a number of changes to the Michigan method of delegate allocation for 2016 as compared to four years ago. The most consequential may be that the primary is scheduled for a compliant date this time around; a departure from the last two cycles. That non-compliance in 2008 and 2012 meant that Michigan Republicans had their national convention delegation cut in half. With a rules-compliant primary on March 8, Michigan Republicans will have a full 59 delegates in 2016, and that makes it the most delegate-rich state in between Super Tuesday I on March 1 and Super Tuesday II on March 15.

Those 59 delegates will, unlike in 2012, be pooled and all proportionally allocated to candidates who receive at least 15 percent of the vote statewide. Michigan was minimally proportional last time. The halved delegation forced the Michigan Republican Party to handle its delegate allocation in a plan that was divergent from its original rules. Rather than have three delegates apportioned to each of the Great Lakes state's 14 congressional districts, the party distributed just two to each. Those two delegates were winner-take-all to the victor within the congressional districts. But that left just two delegates -- out of the penalty-decreased 30 -- to be proportionally allocated at-large (based on the statewide results). That was consistent with the Republican National Committee rules on delegate allocation in 2012. States could allocate congressional district delegates in a winner-take-all fashion, but had to proportionally allocate at least the at-large delegates.

Only, the Michigan Republican Party did not follow that guidance from the Republican National Committee. Rather than proportionally allocate those two at-large delegates as called for by the Rules of the Republican Party, the Michigan GOP awarded them both to the winner of the statewide primary vote. That meant a couple of things. First, Michigan functioned as a winner-take-all by congressional district state in 2012, but one with a reduced delegation. The second point is that because the Michigan delegation was already cut in half due to the timing violation -- February primary -- the RNC did not have the means to penalize Michigan again for any allocation violation. The national party only had the one 50% penalty that it could dole out just once.

That decision was actually consequential as the competitive Michigan primary in 2012 should have evenly split the delegates between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Each won seven congressional districts, but Romney won the primary and took the two at-large delegates, giving the former Massachusetts governor a 16-14 advantage in the Michigan delegate count.

None of those issue exist for 2016, though. Under the current rules, the Michigan Republican delegate allocation is made simpler by the fact that party has opted to pool all 59 delegates, regardless of at-large, congressional district or automatic distinctions, and proportionally allocate them. Only candidates who receive more than 15 percent of the statewide qualify for any of those delegates.

There are two exceptions to that 15 percent threshold. The first is under the condition that no one reaches a 15 percent share of the statewide vote. In that situation, the threshold drops to the winner's share of the vote minus five percent. If, for example, the winner receives 12.1 percent of the vote in the March 8 primary, then the threshold to qualify for delegates is 7.1 percent.2 That puts a premium on the candidates behind the winner being close to qualify for delegates. The odds of that are enhanced in that if the winner is below 15 percent statewide, then there will likely be a significant amount of clustering with a big field.

Obviously, the more the field winnows ahead of March 8, the less applicable the below-15-percent contingency becomes. Yet, that winnowing tends to raise the possibility of someone winning a majority of the vote. Should someone receive a majority of the statewide vote, that candidate is entitled to all 59 delegates.

The Michigan Republican Party rules also allow (by not specifically prohibiting) a backdoor winner-take-all option. If only one candidate clears the 15 percent threshold statewide, then that candidate would take all 59 delegates. Yet, the odds of that occurring decrease as the field of candidates narrows. Winnowing makes a tripping of the winner-take-all trigger more likely, but decreases the likelihood of a backdoor winner-take-all outcome.

Delegate allocation (at-large, congressional district and automatic delegates)
Assuming that all the remaining candidates clear the 15 percent threshold, the allocation of the pool of 59 Michigan delegates is governed by a comparatively simple set of rounding rules. If any candidate should fail to reach the qualifying threshold, then the allocation equation only counts the votes of the qualifying candidates as its denominator (rather than the total statewide vote).

Candidates who have fractional delegates of .5 and above round up and those below that threshold round down to the nearest whole number. If that rounding yields an overallocation of delegates, then the superfluous delegate is subtracted from the total of the candidate with the smallest vote share (above the qualifying threshold). In the case of some or all of the qualifying candidates having fractional delegates below the .5 threshold and a resulting under-allocation of delegates, an extra delegate will be added to the top votegetter statewide to bring the total number of delegates allocated to 59.

The rules of the Michigan Republican Party bind delegates from the state to candidates based on the presidential primary through the first ballot at the national convention. Compared to some other states, the Michigan Republican Party has a low but inclusive bar for the release of delegates. If a candidate withdraws or suspends their campaign, their delegates are released and become unbound. If that candidate endorses another candidate, any delegates allocated to them become unbound. If a candidate runs for another party's nomination or becomes the nominee of another party -- any party other than the Republican Party -- then any delegates allocated to that candidate become unbound.

In other words, it is a low unbinding trigger in Michigan.

State allocation rules are archived here.

1 If no candidate achieves a 15 percent share of the vote, then the qualifying threshold becomes the winner's share minus five percent.

2 The winner's share is rounded to the nearest one-tenth of one percent if below 15 percent and the lowered threshold equals that share minus five percent.

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