Friday, March 18, 2016

The Reallocation of Rubio's Five Alaska Delegates

On Tuesday evening Marco Rubio suspended his campaign in the wake of a loss in the primary in his home state of Florida. That set off a firestorm of reactions concerning what would happen to the approximately 170 delegates allocated to Senator Rubio through the contests that have occurred to this point on the presidential primary calendar. The short answer is that the process for the release of delegates varies by state and is complex.

The longer answer, as FHQ has explained elsewhere, is that the variation across states tends to fall into three main categories:
  1. The delegates are unbound if released (assuming a more formal withdrawal).
  2. The delegates are locked in regardless. The bond is indefinite.
  3. The delegates are reallocated to the still-active candidates (assuming they met any qualifying threshold if one exists).
This last category is perhaps the most interesting. It closes the unbound loophole, but does not force a delegate to continue being bound to a candidate who very likely will not win the nomination or contest it in a contested/open convention environment. It is a middle ground option.

Kentucky has this option. The Republican delegation from the Bluegrass state will vote at the convention on reallocating the seven delegates bound to Rubio. Nevada also has this option, but it is a candidate option. Rubio could choose to have his seven delegates in the Silver state reallocated or opt to release those delegates. In both cases, it is not entirely clear where those 14 delegates will end up in terms of their preferences, much less the candidate to whom they are (newly) bound (if newly bound).

There is more immediate clarity on what happens in Alaska with regard to the reallocation of the five delegates Rubio was allocated based on the March 1 caucuses in the Last Frontier.

Well, at least there seemed to be.

The Alaska Republican Party rules, first of all, have a low bar for the release of delegates. To be deemed released, a candidate merely has to have stopped actively campaigning. Rubio meets that qualification. The next step is the reallocation.

According to those same Alaska Republican Party rules, there are different contingencies for the reallocation based on when the release of the delegates occurs.
  1. If a candidate drops out before the state convention (when the delegates are selected to fill those slots allocated in the March 1 caucuses) then any delegates that candidate was allocated are reallocated to any qualifying candidate (those who met the 13% threshold) still in the race. 
  2. If a candidate drops out after the state convention and thus, after the delegates have been chosen, any delegates won by the withdrawing candidate are reallocated to the remaining qualified candidates using the proportional formula in the original post-caucus allocation. 
  3. If a candidate drops out at the national convention, the delegates are bound to the candidate through the first two ballots. After a hypothetical inconclusive couple of ballots, the delegates become unbound. 
Rubio clearly falls into contingency #1. The Alaska state convention is not until the end of April.

But take a moment to go back and carefully read the conditions of contingency #1 and contingency #2. Yes, there is the before and after the state convention difference, but there is also an operational difference with respect to the specificity of the reallocation. Note that the provisions in contingency #1 are ambiguous. There is no explicit guidance as to how the reallocation is to be done. However, in contingency #2, there is. The drop out-aligned delegates are reallocated proportionally to the remaining qualifying candidates.

Under that type of reallocation -- the one described in contingency #2 -- Rubio's five delegates would have been split 3-2. Cruz beat out Trump in the Alaska caucuses and would claim three delegates to Trump's two. That would give Cruz more than half of the Alaska delegation with 15 total delegates and give the Texas senator one more state toward the eight necessary to be placed in nomination under the current Rule 40.

But the reallocation process in contingency #1 is not as clearly specified as it is in contingency #2. Instead of the reallocation leading to a new 15-13 split that favors Cruz, the Alaska Republican Party has reallocated three of the Rubio delegates to Trump and two to Cruz. The state party interprets the rules in a way that leads to an even 14-14 delegate distribution of the Alaska delegates.

Now sure, this is one delegate. This Alaska situation also echoes in some ways the Romney-Santorum argument over one delegate in Michigan four years ago. But 2016 is not 2012. With increasing talk of a contested convention, even one delegate matters.

Keep this one in mind should primary season end in an inconclusive result. It will come back up again then.

Follow FHQ on TwitterGoogle+ and Facebook or subscribe by Email.

No comments: