Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Republican Proportionality Rules Changes for 2016, Part One

These discussions never really go away, but with candidates officially announcing and 2016 drawing closer, the salience of the delegate selection rules has begun its quiet rise. Already, FHQ has seen snippets of comments and reporting out there building up the potential for rules changes -- breaking with the typical rhythms of the nomination process -- to increase the chaos of the 2016 Republican nomination process.1 Perhaps they will. Certainly, as the story tends to go, rules changes of any stripe -- big or small -- will cause significant changes in the landscape of a nomination race.

Of course, it is always more nuanced than that. The rules changes are there, sure, but the impact is typically more muted than is often discussed. For 2016, FHQ wants to try and get out ahead of this as much as possible. That way, once primary season hits late next January or early next February, there can be a more informed discussion concerning the rules changes and the actual impact they are having on the Republican race in real time.

My column last week at Crystal Ball set a baseline of sorts, and FHQ dug a little deeper on some of the Republican rules changes for 2016 specific to the Ron-to-Rand Paul delegate maneuvering. Yet, a change by change examination may be more appropriate for our purposes; a primer in some sense.

To start, let's talk proportionality. FHQ will lay out the rules changes in this post and then follow up with an addition two or three posts on potential implications of the changes for 2016.

The RNC adding a proportionality window was actually a big rules change during the 2012 cycle. No, the change was not large in terms of its impact. The definition of proportionality was sufficiently broad as to bring about only minimal changes to state party delegate selection plans as compared to how those same parties had operated in 2008. States were not lurching from a truly winner-take-all method of allocation to a truly proportional one. Instead, in a great many case, plans that were already hybrid plans -- in between the winner-take-all and proportional extremes on the spectrum -- that were tweaked ever so slightly to meet the requirements of the new rules for March contests.

What made the change "big" was that the Republican National Committee made the change at all. That the RNC voted for the recommendations of the Temporary Delegate Selection Committee, breaking with the national party's traditional hand-off approach to dealing with state delegate selection/allocation processes, was what was significant. Creating a mandate for proportionality in a more or less top-down way rather than leaving those matters up to the states/state parties as had historically been the case is still something that rankles some in the party.

Once such a rules change is introduced, though, the desire or perceived need to tinker with those rules becomes almost inevitable. That is particularly true after a party loses presidential election. Actually, the fun footnote to all of this is that the Romney team made the proportionality requirement optional (the infamous shall/may switch) in the version of the 2016 rules coming out of the Tampa convention. After the former Massachusetts governor had lost the 2012 election, though, the RNC readopted the requirement, trading may for shall in the language of the rule at the 2014 RNC winter meeting.

[Reference: 2016 Republican delegation selection rules]

With the quiet reintroduction of the proportionality requirement came a number of subtle changes to Rule 16(c)(2, 3).2 First, the RNC compressed the proportionality window by two weeks. Instead of the allocation in primaries and caucuses having to be proportional in all of March, the 2016 rules condensed that to just the first two weeks of March. That could mean different outcomes coming out of the proportionality period dependent upon how many states actually crowd into the window. If a smaller window yields fewer contests, then the difference is likely to be negligible. If, on the other hand, a month's worth of 2012 contests clusters in that two week opening in 2016, the effect may be larger. Of course, under the 2012 rules with the broad definition of proportionality, this distinction -- a two week or month-long proportionality window -- is largely irrelevant.

However, the party simultaneously tightened the definition of proportionality. The RNC reduced the number of ways in which a state party could proportionalize to meet the requirement. In combination, a smaller (or equivalent) number of primaries and caucuses in the proportionality window in 2016 relative to 2012 plus a stricter definition of proportionality are likely to cancel each other out. As of now, there are 17 states scheduled before March 15 (not counting the four carve-out states) in 2016. Once the Republican caucuses states are added into likely positions in early March, the number of primaries and caucuses in that two week proportionality window will approach if not match the 30 (non-carve-out state) contests held before April 1 during the 2012 cycle.3

To fully understand this, though, we need to take a step back and examine the actual change in the proportionality guidelines from 2012 to 2016. How narrowly has the RNC defined proportionality or more accurately what loopholes has it eliminated? The 2012 proportionality guidance the RNC legal counsel provide states granted states a great deal of latitude in achieving a proportional plan. As FHQ argued in 2011, all a state really had to do was to make the allocation of its at-large delegates proportional. Those delegates were a smaller part of a state's total number of delegates the large a state was (based on how the RNC apportioned delegates to each of the states). There were states like Texas that overreacted and changed to a truly proportional allocation plan,4 and states like Ohio that mostly maintained a winner-take-all by congressional district plan, but allocated its small cache of at-large delegates proportionally based on the statewide vote.

But here is what Republican state parties were looking at in 2011  as they were putting together delegate selection plans for 20125:
Proportional allocation basis shall mean that delegates are allocated in proportion to the voting results, in accordance with the following criteria: 
i. Proportional allocation of total delegates based upon the number of statewide votes cast in proportion to the number of statewide votes received by each candidate shall be the default formula for calculating delegate allocation, if no specific language is otherwise provided by a state.  
ii. If total delegate allocation is split between delegates at-large and delegates by congressional district, delegates at-large must be proportionally allocated based upon the total statewide results. 
iii. If total delegate allocation is split between delegates at-large and delegates by congressional district, delegates by congressional district may be allocated as designated by the state based upon the total congressional district results.  
iv. A state may establish a minimum threshold of the percentage of votes received by a candidate that must be reached below which a candidate may receive no delegates, provided such threshold is no higher than 20%. 
v. A state may establish a minimum threshold of the percentage of votes received by a candidate that must be reached above which the candidate may receive all the delegates, provided such threshold is no lower than 50%.  
vi. Proportional allocation is not required if the delegates either are elected independently on a primary ballot not in accordance with a primary presidential candidate's slate or are not bound at any time to vote for a particular candidate. 
The quick and dirty version of that is states in the 2012 proportionality window had to allocated their delegates proportionally. If the delegation was split between at-large and congressional district delegates, at-large delegates had to be proportionally allocated while states could maintain discretion over the allocation of congressional district delegates. States could further dilute proportionality by creating minimum thresholds for receiving delegates and/or receiving all of the delegates.

The RNC took that and between the convention period in 2012 and August 2014 boiled it down to this for 2016:
(3) Proportional allocation of total delegates as required by Rule 16(c)(2) shall be based upon the number of statewide votes cast or the number of congressional district votes cast in proportion to the number of votes received by each candidate.  
(i) A state may establish by statewide vote or by congressional district a minimum threshold of the percentage of votes received by a candidate that must be reached below which a candidate may receive no delegates, provided such threshold is no higher than twenty percent (20%).  
(ii) A state may establish by statewide vote or by congressional district a minimum threshold of the percentage of votes received by a candidate that must be reached above which the candidate may receive all the delegates, provided such threshold is no lower than fifty percent (50%).
Gone in 2016 is the discretion the RNC gave state parties regarding the allocation of their congressional district delegates. Those delegates can no longer be allocated winner-take-all based on the results within the congressional district. In essence more states would have to adopt plans similar to the one Alabama Republicans used in 2012. And like Alabama Republicans did in 2012, 2016 states with contests in the proportionality window can -- CAN -- add a minimum threshold for receiving any delegates and/or receiving all of the delegates (at both the statewide and congressional district level).

This would have the effect of very slightly turning the knob toward the proportional end of the spectrum in 2016 as compared to 2012. That would potentially split the delegates up even more between candidates and perhaps by some small measure slow down the nomination process. Potentially. It could also all be a wash considering that it looks like a smaller or roughly equivalent number of states will hold primaries and caucuses in the smaller 2016 proportionality window as was the case in 2012.

But those thresholds, where the state parties do have some discretion, do offer some interesting layers to the process. FHQ will examine the implications of those in Part Two.

1 Yes, this is mostly a Republican thing. With no real competition on the horizon on the Democratic side and no changes of consequence to the Democratic nomination rules, there is far less to talk about as far as the Democrats are concerned.

2 FHQ says "quiet" because it was as if the proportionality requirement had never left. Folks at the RNC told FHQ in 2013 that the intention was to keep it in place all along; that "may" would change to "shall" in Rule 16(c)(2):
Any presidential primary, caucus, convention, or other process to elect, select, allocate, or bind delegates to the national convention that occurs prior to March 15 in the year in which the national convention is held shall provide for the allocation of delegates on a proportional basis.
3 This 2012 number includes states with primaries or caucuses before March. Florida's "move" to January 31 had the effect of stretching the proportionality window out to include February and March contests. That had a minimal impact because both Florida and Arizona ignored the proportionality requirement and most of the rest of the February delegate selection events were non-binding caucuses (not affected by the requirement).

4 That change was made by Texas Republicans before redistricting challenges forced the primary from the first Tuesday in March to the end of May.

5 None of this was codified in the actual Rules of the Republican Party. Rather, the RNC legal counsel had to provide guidance concerning what constituted allocation on a "proportional basis". That protocol has changed for the 2016 cycle. The RNC included the proportionality guidelines in the rules regarding the proportionality requirement.

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