Sunday, July 26, 2015

Kansas Republicans Set Delegate Allocation Rules for 2016

Despite reports that the Kansas Republican Party set its caucus date at its midyear convention on Saturday, July 25, the real headline came from changes to the party's delegate allocation process.

The Lawrence Journal-World ran a story late Saturday that Kansas Republicans had set the date of their 2016 caucuses for March 5 at their Saturday meeting. However, that decision was tentatively made back in January and formalized thereafter. Party chair, Kelly Arnold, testified before a Kansas legislative committee considering a bill to permanently cancel the perpetually cancelled Kansas presidential primary in March (2015) that the party would hold caucuses on March 5.1 The party website also reflected that decision at that time.

The question about the caucuses was less when on Saturday than it was how. As in "How will Kansas Republicans allocate delegates to candidates in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination process?" There were two main differences in the plan adopted that are departures from the delegate allocation plan the Kansas Republican Party utilized in 2012.

First, due to the tighter definition of proportionality that the Republican National Committee has in place for contests within the March 1-14 proportionality window in 2016, Sunflower state Republicans had to alter the manner in which its congressional district delegates will be allocated. Whereas it was fine in 2012 to allocate those congressional district delegates on a winner-take-all basis (while the statewide/at-large delegates were proportionally allocated) while remaining compliant with the proportionality rules, in 2016 it will not be. Those congressional district delegates now have to be allocated proportionally as well.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Kansas Republicans lowered the threshold for receiving delegates -- congressional district or at-large -- from 20% to 10%. Strategically, that lowers if not eliminates the need for the party to make rules accounting for the possibility that no candidate crosses the threshold to receive delegates. Scheduled over a month after the Iowa caucuses are likely to be held, the March 5 Kansas Republican caucuses will see a field winnowed from the 16 candidates who have formally announced runs (as of July 2015).

Functionally, though, the lowered threshold means that more candidates are likely to qualify for delegates in 2016 than was the case in 2012. Only Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney cleared the 20% threshold the 2012 caucuses. Under the newly adopted 2016 rules, however, both Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul would also have been allocated delegates in 2012. The loser in the change -- if the 2016 rules had been used in 2012 -- would have been Rick Santorum. Instead of a 33-7 Santorum to Romney delegate distribution, Santorum likely would have claimed roughly 23 delegates to 8 for Romney, 5 for Paul and 4 for Gingrich.

And that difference is a direct reflection of both of those rules changes for 2016: 1) proportionally allocating congressional district delegates and 2) lowering the threshold for qualifying for delegates.

There is one more factor to note in closing on this discussion of the Kansas Republican caucus rules for 2016. The three automatic delegates -- the party chair, national committeeman and national committeewoman -- are all still allocated to the statewide winner of the caucuses. That portion of the allocation rules is unchanged; a tiny winner-take-all remnant that carries over to 2016.

1 Arnold made it clear that the caucuses "will" take place on March 5 in that testimony, separating that distinction/decision from the caucuses planning that was still ongoing at that point.

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