Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Florida May End Up "Proportional" But It Won't Be Proportional

Well, that was fast.

No, FHQ is not talking about the news that the Gingrich campaign is going to formally challenge the winner-take-all allocation of the Florida Republican delegates. Instead, I'm talking about the need to try -- try very hard, mind you -- to get out in front of those picking up and running with this story carrying the banner of false proportionality.

Look, I have no problem with the Republican National Committee delegate selection rules. It is up to the party to decide the formula it wants to use -- how much leeway it want to allow the states in determining their own rules under those guidelines. I don't even really have a problem with them calling it proportional, though it would have been a lot easier for all parties concerned if they had used different language to describe the nature of the rules change from 2008 to 2012. What I have a problem with and what FHQ has absolutely fought against is the notion that the changes to the rules mean that any primary or caucus before April 1 will be proportional like they are in the Democratic Party delegate selection rules (ie: If a candidate receives 40% of the vote in a contest, they take approximately 40% of the delegates in that state.).

The truth is, some are. New Hampshire had proportional allocation of all 12 of its delegates. The problem lies in the fact that very few have taken the time to actually acquaint themselves with the RNC's definition of proportional. Proportional can mean New Hampshire proportional, but it can also mean Michigan "proportional" or Oklahoma "proportional" or Virginia "proportional".

Let me explain. There are a number of ways that a state can get at the RNC's definition of proportional. The Michigan primary is winner-take-all by congressional district -- completely fine within the Republican Party rules before April 1 -- but the statewide at-large delegates are allocated in proportion to the statewide vote. South Carolina, which was exempt from the proportionality requirement, under the Michigan plan would have allocated the 2 delegates per congressional district (14 total) on a winner-take-all basis as it did on January 21, but the 11 at-large delegates would have been divvied up proportionally among the candidates based on the statewide vote.

...instead of all having gone to Gingrich.

The Oklahoma primary on March 6 will be a proportional contest, but only if no candidate receives 50% of the vote or more. If a candidate gains a majority in the primary, that candidate would receive all 43 of the Sooner state Republican delegates. That, too, is completely within the letter of the law in the Republican delegate selection rules.

The Virginia primary on March 6 will be like Michigan and South Carolina in that the congressional district votes will be winner-take-all, but the allocation of the at-large delegates will be proportional IF no candidate receives over 50% of the vote in a two-person (Romney and Paul) race. Otherwise, the allocation will be winner-take-all.

Now, there are several other combinations, but I think you get the point. The Gingrich campaign can challenge the Florida allocation all it wants, but there is nothing in the rules that allows the RNC to make the Florida allocation totally proportional. Nothing. However, if, on the very small chance that this challenge is either necessary later on in the year or successful, Florida won't be proportional. It will likely be "proportional".

I have no idea what that would look like, but I sure would like to see the Florida vote by congressional district last night.

As an aside, I played around with this a little bit the other day. FHQ has argued in the past that if a challenge was successful Florida would end up looking more like South Carolina (minus the winner-take-all allocated at-large delegates) and less like New Hampshire. After all the Republican Party of Florida rules call for the allocation to be that way if not penalized. But the math doesn't work as well for Florida as it did in South Carolina. Both lost half their delegates for holding January primaries, and instead of having 3 delegates per congressional district like all the other non-penalized states, the South Carolina Republican Party apportioned 2 delegates per district and let the remaining 11 be at-large delegates. Florida, with so many congressional districts, can't mimic that plan. Two delegates per district would mean 54 delegates and Florida only has 50 to give. One alternative that we might see, in the event of a successful challenge, is each Florida district being apportioned one delegate to be allocated winner-take-all based on the votes in each of the 27 districts. The remaining 23 delegates would be allocated proportionally based on the statewide vote. Romney would get approximately half of the at-large delegates. For the congressional district allocation, again, we would need the vote by congressional district.

The resulting plan is not quite proportional and not quite winner-take-all, but is somewhere in between while still giving most to Romney. It would reduce the delegate margin, but Romney would still leave Florida with a pretty wide margin.

UPDATE: The RNC has punted on the Florida question in a memo released tonight. The issue won't be dealt with until a formal challenge is filed with the Committee on Contests. Rule 23(b) of the RNC rules states that a challenge must be filed no later than 22 days preceding the Republican National Convention. The rest of the rule lays out the contest procedure: a prompt hearing of the issues by the Committee, a submission of the issues and recommendations for resolution to the RNC, provide a chance for the parties involved to object to the Committee submission and then a final decision by the whole RNC.

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