Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Delegate Allocation Rules Hinged on Date of Presidential Primary in Ohio

With the Ohio legislature having passed in quick succession last week a plan to create a separate primary for US House and presidential nominations in June the rules are back in the picture. Earlier this month the Ohio Republican Party voted to alter the method by which it will allocate delegates in the 2012 Ohio presidential primary. At the time the change -- one made to comply with the new restrictions on winner-take-all allocation in contests prior to April 1 -- was heralded as one that would bring candidates into a vital general election battleground state:
"Those people are going to have to come in here and make a pitch to the voters," [Ohio Republican Party Chair Mike] DeWine said in a meeting with reporters to explain the new setup, which will be sent to the presidential campaigns Friday. "We will play a significant role for the selection of a presidential nominee."
The reason the chair of the Ohio Republican Party said that was because the new rules added an element of proportional allocation to a typically winner-take-all or winner-take-most formula. The only problem is that, as has been the case elsewhere, the extent of the change then is being as overstated as the change back to winner-take-all is now. Let's look at this more closely.

In 2008, the Ohio delegation comprised 88 total delegates on the same first Tuesday in March date the primary was scheduled for in 2012. And though John McCain won all 85 of the non-automatic delegates that was not directly attributable to a statewide win. No, instead, Ohio like about a third of all Republican contests falls somewhere in between a truly winner-take-all and a truly proportional delegate allocation method. The party divides its delegate allocation up based on both the statewide vote and the congressional district vote.

Recall that the RNC formula for delegate apportionment grants states:
  • a base 10 delegates (5 for each US Senate seat)
  • 3 delegates per congressional district
  • 3 automatic delegates
  • a slate of bonus delegates based on a state's voting history/loyalty to Republican candidates
In Ohio in 2008, then that came to a total of 88 delegates
  • 10 base delegates
  • 21 bonus delegates
  • 3 automatic delegates
  • 54 district delegates
And yes, with the exception of the three automatic delegates, McCain won all 85. McCain won the statewide by virtue of which the Arizona senator received the 31 base and bonus delegates and he won in each of the 18 congressional districts, pulling in the remaining 54. [The three automatic delegates went to the St. Paul convention unpledged.]

In the time since, however, the RNC rules for delegate allocation have changed. States can no longer allocate all of their apportioned delegates winner-take-all if that state has a primary or caucus with delegates actually on the line before April 1.1 States can continue to allocate their delegates winner-take-all on the congressional district level. Only those base and bonus delegates are required to be allocated proportionally. If those rules were used in 2008, the allocation would have looked a little different. McCain would have received the same 54 congressional district delegates, but would have split the other 31 with Mike Huckabee (21 to McCain and the remaining 10 to Huckabee). That would have slightly shifted things in Huckabee's direction, but the deficit would have been 75-10 instead of 85-0.

Now, it should be noted that the circumstances are different in 2012. There would have been far fewer contests ahead of Ohio if the primary had been kept in March. Now in June, only Utah holds a primary later than Ohio. But the state has also lost delegates in the time since 2008. Part of that is due to a loss of two congressional districts in the post-census reapportionment process, but part of it is also due to an erosion of bonus delegates. The congressional district delegates are not all that important to the underlying point here [Regardless of date, there is absolutely no change to how those delegates will be allocated.], so allow FHQ to focus on the comparatively small number of bonus/base delegates in Ohio. What that means -- a total of 31 in 2008 is now an estimated 15 in 2012 -- is that there are less delegates to be divvied up proportionally assuming a March primary. FHQ questions how much the candidates would be clambering to fight over 15 proportionally-allocated delegates.

What would have been more likely is that if the race was still competitive by the time it got to March 6, the candidates would be drawn to Ohio because it would have been a unique contest on that date without a natural candidate. It isn't a southern contest and it isn't a northeastern or western contest. It would have been a unique -- regionally -- contest on March 6 that would entice candidates to come campaign; not for 15 delegates but for the prospect of winning in certain areas/congressional districts in the Buckeye state.

However, now that the primary has been shifted back to June, not only has the competitive element likely been lost in an effort to buy more time in the redistricting process, but the switch back to a winner-take-all allocation of the base and bonus delegates -- something that was probably of little consequence in the first place -- has been rendered largely meaningless. It depends entirely on the campaign being active at that point.

There continues to be an awful lot of talk out there about these delegate allocation rules and their implementation, and FHQ urges a great deal of caution when attempting to examine them. [Yes, the news out of Florida, too.]

1 The exception allowed in the RNC rules is that a state can be winner-take-all if a candidate receives a majority (not merely a plurality) of the vote.

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