Thursday, September 19, 2019

West Virginia Republicans Adopt Winner-Take-All Allocation Scheme, Alter Delegate Selection Process for 2020

West Virginia Republicans at a recent Executive Committee meeting made changes to the way in which the party will select and allocate delegates to the 2020 Republican National Convention in Charlotte. Gone is the loophole primary the state party has traditionally used, where voters would not only vote on presidential preference, but directly elect both at-large and congressional district delegates on the primary ballot.

Such a system puts the onus on campaigns to gain ballot access for their candidate but to also round up and file for delegate candidates supportive of the candidate. The former is easier than the latter as is evidenced by Rick Santorum's troubles in the Mountain state in 2012.

That system has been scrapped by the WVGOP for 2020 in favor of a more streamlined process. By a 92-12 vote, the West Virginia Republican Party executive committee opted to share the delegate selection process with the Trump campaign and shift to a winner-take-all method of allocation.

Under the new plan, Republican primary voters in West Virginia will only have one presidential choice before them, the presidential preference vote. Whichever candidate wins that vote would be awarded all of the delegates at stake in the West Virginia primary on May 12. On the selection side, delegate candidates would no longer be included on the primary ballot. Instead, prospective delegate candidates would apply and interview with the WVGOP executive committee and the Trump for President Committee to determine what that individual has done for the party/Trump and how loyal they are. Obviously, that would give much more discretion to the state party and the Trump campaign to identify and select delegates than under the loophole system.

This option was one of three being considered by the executive committee. The other two were 1) to keep the loophole (direct election of delegates) system the same or 2) to adopt a convention system similar to what the West Virginia Republican Party used in 2008. The latter was quickly dismissed and the alternative winner-take-all system was deemed preferable by the executive committee in its vote in late August.

One important coda to this maneuvering is that the change will sunset after 2020, reverting to the old loophole system for subsequent cycles (unless there is state party action to make other changes).

Yes, this change clearly gives the Trump campaign a great deal of discretion over the delegates chosen for the national convention from West Virginia. But bear in mind that Democratic National Committee rules allow candidates to reject delegates selected to fill delegate slots allocated them and then represent them at the convention. However, that right of refusal happens after the delegate selection process. The West Virginia Republican Party plan cedes a great deal of control to the Trump reelection effort before and/or during primary season, likely ahead of the West Virginia primary in May. That is an important distinction between how Democrats conduct the process and how West Virginia Republicans are handling theirs.

This also adds another data point to the growing list of states making a variety of changes to their delegate selection rules to help insulate the president from intra-party challenges and hypothetically keep divisiveness down within the party-in-the-electorate before the transition into the general election phase.

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