Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Missouri Republicans Reveal More Details of 2016 Delegate Selection Plan

Missouri Republican Party chairman, John Hancock on Monday, September 14 shed more light on the process by which the party will select and allocate delegates to the national convention in 2016.

Just a couple of weeks ago, news broke that the Republican Party in the Show-Me state would break with tradition and allocate delegates in a winner-take-most rather than winner-take-all fashion. Typically, in years during which the party had utilized the state-funded presidential primary (as its means of allocating delegates), it had also used a winner-take-all formula. Faced with a wide-open race and an unprecedentedly large field of candidates, the party opted to scale that practice back; preventing the potential awarding of all the delegates to a weak plurality winner while aiming to attract the attention of those candidates.1

The winner-take-most plan the Missouri GOP has adopted, though, is a different spin on what some call a winner-take-all by congressional district method. Basically, what that entails is the statewide winner receiving all of the at-large delegates and then the winner of each congressional district being allocated all the delegates apportioned to those districts.2 Missouri will follow that plan with one exception.

States tend to follow the Republican National Committee apportionment method when labeling their full allotment of delegates in their own allocation plans. That looks something like this: three delegates apportioned for each congressional district a state has (the congressional district delegates), ten baseline delegates plus bonuses (the at-large delegates) and three party delegates (the automatic delegates).

Under that formula, Missouri was apportioned 52 delegates by the RNC:
  • 3 automatic delegates
  • 24 congressional district delegates (3 delegates for each of Missouri's eight congressional districts) 
  • 25 at-large delegates (10 base delegates plus 15 bonus delegates)
Such a distribution would give a pretty clear delegate victory to the a plurality statewide winner.3 But Missouri Republicans shifted more delegate power to the congressional districts, shedding the RNC-based distinctions in the process.

Instead of the winner of a congressional district being awarded three delegates, the winner will receive five delegates. That means there are a total of 40 congressional district delegates and just nine at-large delegates. Under that allocation method, the significance of winning the statewide vote is minimized as compared to the true winner-take-all by congressional district method. It shifts the plan closer to the proportional end of the spectrum rather than the winner-take-all side. In turn, that means that the winner of the Missouri primary is likely to emerge with a smaller delegate advantage than would be the case under a true winner-take-all plan or a true winner-take-all by congressional district method.

There are a couple of side notes that FHQ should append to this discussion:

  1. First, the Missouri primary will be on March 15. That is the opening day of the post-proportionality window period. More importantly, it will presumably be a month and half after the Iowa caucuses. The field will have winnowed. To what degree is something that will be determined later, after Iowa. The extent to which the field winnows will have a significant impact on how some of these allocation methods will function. This Missouri plan is no different. 
  2. It should also be noted in closing that the move by the Missouri Republican Party to shift more delegates into the congressional district delegate pool (and away from the at-large pool) is a practice that is entirely within the delegate selection rules of the Republican National Committee. The plan Florida Republicans would have used in 2012 -- had it not been penalized, thus triggering the winner-take-all provision in its rules -- would have designated two-thirds of the delegates congressional district delegates and the remainder at-large delegates. New York also allocated just two delegates to the primary winners in each congressional district in 2012 increasing the pool of at-large delegates available statewide. That move in the opposite direction of the Missouri change was partially a function of an unsettled redistricting process. So, this distinction tweaking happens, but it is rare. Most states take the easy road and use the distinctions on which the RNC apportionment is based in the first place. 

1 To be clear, FHQ is using the "weak" tag to describe the plurality, not the winning candidate. So someone winning all the delegates with just 20% of the vote instead of, say, 45%.

2 See Wisconsin for a good example of this delegate allocation plan in 2012.

3 All of this is moot if one candidate wins a majority. In that scenario, the majority winner would receive all of the at-large and congressional district delegates. The automatic, party delegates will remain unpledged.

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