Sunday, September 20, 2015

Rules Matter...

But correctly interpreting rules changes matters more.

Adam Nagourney and Jonathan Martin at the New York Times are the latest to venture down the path of tea leaf reading about the changes the Republican National Committee has made to its 2016 delegate selection rules and their impact. Their conclusions?

The rules changes to streamline the Republican presidential nomination process may backfire. More specifically, they add:
But as the sprawling class of 2016 Republican presidential candidates tumbled out of their chaotic second debate last week, it was increasingly clear that those rule changes — from limiting the number of debates to adjusting how delegates are allocated — had failed to bring to the nominating process the order and speed that party leaders had craved.
What follows in the article is more of the same.

...and it is wrong. It is wrong because Nagourney and Martin fall into the post hoc ergo propter hoc trap. Essentially, the conclusion is: the RNC made nomination rules changes, thus the "chaos" we are currently witnessing is direct result of those rules changes. And then they even talk to and aggregate quotes from folks like Richard Hohlt who not only subscribe to the chaos theory, but who feel the rules changes have led to "unintended consequences".

But here's the thing: For those rules to have either the desired effect that the national party wants or for there to have been unintended consequences, the rules actually have to be implemented. And a great many of those rules and their attendant effects have not kicked in yet. One cannot draw conclusions from something that has yet to occur. One can only speculate. And that is pretty much what we're getting from this article: speculation.

Let's take a step back here for a moment and lay this out piece by piece. There are four main rules changes that Nagourney and Martin both directly discuss and indirectly hint at:
  1. limiting the number of debates
  2. increasing the penalties to keep states in line on the primary calendar
  3. compressing that calendar due to #2 and shifting up the date of the national convention
  4. tightening the proportionality rules for states with contests during the first half of March
Out of those four changes, only one has truly been implemented so far. That is the new debates-limiting rule. And it could be argued that even the effects of that one have not been felt yet. Debate season, after all, has not run its course yet. We are going on information from just two debates, long in duration though they may have been, at this point.

To have the desired effect that Nagourney and Martin describe -- to tamp down on the "chaos" and calm the nerves of jittery Republicans in the campaigns, the donor class or in the heartland -- the only solution would have been to eliminate primary debates altogether. But the RNC was never going to do that. Their objective was to limit the perceived damage. As we are witnessing on the Democratic side, even limiting debates can be a tricky business. The objective is the same though: limit, not eliminate the sort of jockeying that is a normal part of this invisible primary stage of a presidential nomination process. In other words, the national parties are attempting to manage the sorts of party divisions that always end up being emphasized in these events.

That is the only rules change that has had anything approaching a direct impact on the process so far, and the results are inconclusive. Of the other three changes cited above, the only other one to have even an indirect effect is the effort to compress the primary calendar on the front end: the increase in the severity of the penalty for holding a primary or caucus before March. Has that had an impact on the nomination race? The answer is not really. In any event, we will not know its impact until we actually get into campaign season. Could a newly compressed calendar backfire on the RNC? Sure, but it has not yet.

However, we have seen an indirect effect of this rule. It has kept states in line on the calendar. That is the desired impact of the change. The Florida and Michigan chaos of four and eight years ago -- you know, actual chaos, not the normal kind discussed above -- is not present during the 2016 cycle. That has affected candidate and campaign activity. Are there unintended consequences from that? We don't know. What we do know is that the campaigns have some confidence in what the primary calendar is going to look like in 2016. Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada will have February primaries and caucuses. Other states are falling in line in March and thereafter. Four and eight years ago, things were different. States like Florida were agents of uncertainty. Threatening a January primary date well into September 2011, for example, meant that the calendar was shrouded in mystery. The campaigns had a pretty good idea that the carve-out states would be first, but what came next and in what sequence was not set in stone until relatively late in the calendar year before the primaries started.

That affects candidate and campaign behavior. And in 2011, candidates tended to focus on the near sure things at the beginning of the calendar -- the carve-out states -- and not those that came after, the sequence of which was an unknown.

Again, this is the desired impact. The RNC has reined in rogue state activity. It wanted more certainty so that candidates and their campaigns could actually plan ahead; plan for states with early March 2016 contests. Is that evidence that the campaigns are planning for a long delegate fight. Maybe, but we don't know for sure yet. What looks like a long delegate fight more than four months before Iowa may not actually be a long, protracted delegate fight once the process gets to and through Iowa next February.

But let's give credit where credit is due: the RNC (and DNC, for that matter) has successfully curbed calendar chaos in 2015. That may be fighting the last war. That may yield unintended consequences, but hasn't really done so yet.

Whether the best intentions of that compressed calendar are upset by a huge (at this point un-winnowed) field of candidates remains to be seen. We'll have a better idea next year.

That goes for the final two rules included in this unintended consequences hypothesis that Nagourney and Martin advance as well. Look, we just have not felt the effects of either the recalibrated delegate allocation rules or the earlier convention (and thus backend-shortened primary calendar) yet. One cannot test the effects of supposed unintended consequences until the rules have actually been implemented. Those haven't been. In the void, we are left to speculate, and that is really what Nagourney and Martin are doing here. They are taking, as many others before them have, this large field of candidates and are projecting changes based on that, that at the same time have not happened yet.

Rules matter, folks, but the rules changes the RNC put in place for 2016 have not been fully realized yet. As a result, we really cannot fully determine at this point whether the desired impact has been felt.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Ohio Republicans Choose Winner-Take-All Plan for 2016 Presidential Primary

A switch has been a possibility if not in the works in Ohio since March, but the Ohio Republican Party on Friday, September 18 voted overwhelmingly to adopt winner-take-all rules for its 2016 presidential primary.

Via Robert Higgs at the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
State Republican leadership on Friday formally designated the party's presidential primary next March as a winner-take-all event -- a move that could boost Gov. John Kasich's quest for the GOP presidential nomination.
FHQ will leave the Kasich angle for others, but the change over from a hybrid system of allocating national convention delegates to a truly winner-take-all plan for the March 15 presidential primary is significant.1 As FHQ described earlier this year, in 2012 those sorts of hybrid plans often ended up closer to a truly proportional allocation than a winner-take-all allocation despite having elements of both. Past is not necessarily prologue here, but a candidate would have to win by a large margin for such a hybrid plan to approximate a truly winner-take-all plan.

Any trade, then, to a winner-take-all plan, post-March 14 is of note. Ohio now joins Florida (and perhaps North Carolina) as true winner-take-all contests on March 15. Still the list of states in that category is only marginally different than it was four years ago. Ohio has switched. Nebraska is now winner-take-all. And North Carolina Republicans have signaled it, too, will trade out a proportional plan for a winner-take-all one. But the list is still pretty limited to that group and the handful of states that were winner-take-all in 2012.

Most of those states are clustered around the March 15-22 week.

1 The hybrid system Ohio Republicans utilized in 2012 proportionally allocated the small cache of at-large delegates based on the results of the March 6 presidential primary, but was winner-take-all at the congressional district level (i.e.: win the district, win three delegates).

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North Carolina Inching Closer to a March 15 Presidential Primary

From Colin Campbell at the News and Observer in Raleigh:
House and Senate leaders have agreed to move all 2016 primaries to March 15, according to House Speaker Tim Moore.  
The move would mean candidates for president, governor, U.S. Senate and down-ballot races would all go before voters earlier than the May date used in past primaries.  
“The consensus is to move the primary to March,” Moore told reporters after a midnight budget vote Friday morning. “The rationale behind moving the primaries was (presidential elections) have a very high turnout.”
The devil's going to be in the details on this one. The March 15 primary date has been something of a foregone conclusion for a while now. That move got held up by drawn-out budget negotiations and then the push -- in the context of those same budget negotiations -- to hold all of the state's primaries on the same date to save the state money.

That all seems settled, but it remains to be seen whether the changes to delegate allocation language -- to make the Tar Heel state a winner-take-all primary -- carries over into the conference committee report that will be considered by both the North Carolina House and Senate. That is something to watch as this moves forward.

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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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Monday, September 14, 2015

Washington Republicans Settle on February 20 Caucuses for 2016, but...

Following last month's decision by a bipartisan committee to keep the Washington state presidential primary in May 2016, there were a couple of questions that remained for the Republican Party in the Evergreen state.1 One concerned whether the Washington State Republican Party would opt schedule early caucuses to complement the later primary, but the second was over the delegate selection process. Would the party continue to split the allocation of national convention delegates roughly evenly across the primary and caucuses or would it shift to allocating all of the delegates in the presumably earlier caucuses?

There was nothing out there in the time since August to suggest that the party was entertaining the shift to allocating all of its national convention delegates through a caucus/convention process, but theoretically, it would have made some sense in view of the majority of calendar movement in the post-reform era. Earlier has almost always been viewed as better from the vantage point of the states.2

However, Washington Republicans went with a none of the above answer at their state central committee meeting on Saturday, September 12. Instead of keeping the half and half allocation approach or opting for allocation through an early-starting caucus/convention process, Washington Republicans chose to shift the entire allocation to the May 24 presidential primary.3 In other words, 38 of the 41 total delegates will be proportionally allocated and bound to presidential candidates based on the statewide and congressional district results in the presidential primary election.

Though the national convention delegates will be allocated and bound based on the May primary, the process of selecting them will begin with caucuses on February 20, 2016. There will be no straw poll or presidential preference vote at those precinct caucuses, but delegates will be elected to go to the county conventions which will in turn elect delegates to attend the May 19-21 state convention. It will be from that pool of state convention delegates that the national convention delegates will be chosen (and later bound by the primary the following Tuesday).

This is not a situation like Colorado, where part of the intent was to have an unbound delegation from the state at the national convention. Washington Republicans will select delegates through a caucus/convention system, but allocate and bind them to candidates based on the primary election. The February caucuses, then, are compliant with Republican National Committee rules on delegate selection.

1 The committee was bipartisan, but the vote to maintain the status quo -- a late May presidential primary election -- broke along party lines with Democrats uniting to prevent the two-thirds result that would have ended in a March primary date.

2 The question has always been whether state actors are both willing and able to shift the date of a primary or caucus. Going later, particularly after 75% of the total number of national convention delegates have been allocated, has tended to be a gamble that has placed states on the outside looking in on the process. But a wide open presidential race at rules decision-making time in September 2015 has a way, rightly or wrongly, of affecting the likelihood of gambling that the race will extend to your contest.

3 Here is the full press release from Washington State Republican Party about the rules change:
The Washington State Republican Party, at its State Committee meeting September 12 in Pasco, decided its Rules for the 2016 Caucus and Convention including delegate allocation and Caucus date. 
All (100%) of our state's delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention (Cleveland - July 18-21, 2016) will be allocated in accordance with the vote of the people in the Washington State Primary (currently scheduled for May 24th, 2016). 
The WSRP State convention, scheduled for May 19-21 in Pasco is four days before the Primary. National attention will be focused on our state, and GOP presidential candidates will have a strong incentive to campaign in Washington in an effort to win the vote of the people. 
The allocation of delegates is in accordance with the National Rules of the Republican Party, utilizing a proportional system, with eleven at-large delegates being allocated on a proportional basis based on the statewide vote, and three delegates allocated on a proportional basis for each Congressional District. If a candidate receives a majority of the vote within a Congressional Delegate, that candidate will get all three delegates from that Congressional District. 
All GOP caucuses will take place on Saturday February 20, with county GOP conventions taking place in March and April. County conventions will elect delegates to the state convention, which in turn will elect delegates to the national convention. 100% of our state's Republican delegates to the national convention will be bound by the decision of the VOTERS, unlike the Democrats whose nominee will be chosen by a small percentage of Democrats at their statewide caucuses in March.

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Monday, September 7, 2015

Advisory No More: Nebraska Republicans Will Use Winner-Take-All Primary in 2016

Nebraska has had a presidential primary election throughout much of the post-reform era, but ever since Cornhusker state Democrats traded the May primary for earlier caucuses during the 2008 cycle, the presidential primary vote has been a virtually meaningless addition to a broader primary ballot.

In fact, on the Republican side, the presidential primary has tended to be advisory while having little or no impact on the actual allocation and binding of delegates to the national convention. For years, then, Nebraska Democrats opted into the primary and Republicans opted out. That will change in 2016, and the state party decision to change from business as usual -- adopting the presidential primary -- has as much to do with Republican National Committee delegate selection rules changes as it does with anything else.

First, the advisory Republican primary in the past has run parallel to a caucus/convention system that culminated with the selection of a bound delegation to the national convention. The state convention and delegate selection have tended to take place in July. That works in cycles in which the national conventions are scheduled in August and September. However, the RNC decision to condense the primary calendar -- on both ends -- and schedule an earlier national convention has forced rules requiring state parties to have completed their respective delegate selection processes by early June.

That put the usual July Republican state convention in Nebraska on the wrong side of the RNC delegate selection rules.

Still, the convention -- or needing an earlier one in any event -- was just one rules change hoop Nebraska Republicans had to jump through. The state party also had to shed its non-binding caucuses. That was due not only to RNC rules requiring for the first time the binding of national convention delegates in 2016, but to a change in Nebraska state law in 2014 as well. The latter newly required both state parties to allocate at least 80% of their delegates through either a primary or caucus/convention process. Those RNC rules, however, pushed Nebraska Republicans to make a decision between a caucus process that would have begun prior to the mid-May primary election or to choose the primary as the mode by which the party would select, allocate and bind 2016 delegates.1

Faced with those alternatives, the Nebraska Republican Party opted for compliance via the path of least resistance: using the primary.

Given that decision, though, the party did have the latitude to choose any method of delegate allocation based on the results of the May primary. Here, the Nebraska Republican Party chose a unique route relative to other states with delegate selection events after March 2016. The party chose to allocate their delegates in a winner-take-all fashion.2 That decision may be more a function of being required to make a change -- from completely unbound to bound -- than anything else. States with contests after March that also had rules binding delegates have shown little movement toward rules that are or will be any more winner-take-most/all than they were in 2012.

Forced to bind delegates, Nebraska has decided to go for the maximum effect: binding all 33 non-automatic delegates to the winner of the May 10 presidential primary.3 The remaining three automatic, party delegates will be free to either operate above the fray and remain unbound or cast their lot with a candidate of their choice (whether reflective of the primary winner or not).

1 Any statewide vote on presidential preference would be the result to which the allocation of delegates would have been tied. So, Nebraska Republicans could have had a preference vote at precinct caucuses across the state, but they would have to have preceded the mid-May primary to be the event that affected delegate allocation. Under that scenario, the party could have retained the advisory primary, though would likely have had to acknowledge more formally that it could not be advisory ex post facto (after the precinct caucuses preference vote).

2 Even the language of that state party rules (party constitution) change is unique (Article VII, Section 3(a)):
All candidates for National Convention delegate and alternate delegate at the State Convention shall designate the presidential candidate to whom they are committed and shall be bound by such commitment if elected in accordance with Nebraska State Law. Delegate and alternate candidates shall indicate their commitments by mailing a notice to the State Headquarters, postmarked no later than 10 business days prior to the date the State Convention commences. Only individuals pledged to the candidate who wins the Nebraska Primary Election shall be eligible for election as delegates or alternate delegates to the National Convention.
That last line is the important one. The rule does not directly say that the allocation is winner-take-all, but only the delegates affiliated with/pledged to the winner of the primary are eligible to be selected by the state convention.

These changes to the state party constitution were made on June 6, 2015.

3 Yes, the maximum effect idea assumes that the race is still competitive when it gets to May. That may or may not happen. The point at which 75% of the delegates will have been allocated will occur in late April, before the Nebraska primary.

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Wyoming Republicans Aiming for March 1 Caucuses in 2016

During past cycles, the Wyoming Republican Party has selected delegates to the national convention through a caucus/convention process. In that respect, the mode of delegate selection will not change in 2016. However, changes to the national party rules forced the Wyoming Republican Party to entertain alterations to its standard protocol; changes that came to fruition during the party's July state central committee meeting.

There has been some talk recently about the move made by the Republican Party in Colorado to strip out the presidential preference vote from the precinct caucuses stage of its caucus/convention system. That change is viewed as significant if not controversial because it seemingly renders the precinct caucuses stage meaningless. But that has tended to be the exact same thing that neighboring Wyoming Republicans have done in the past. Across the northern border of Colorado, Wyoming Republicans have typically held early precinct caucuses to select delegates to move on to and participate in county conventions. It has been at that second level -- the second step in the caucus/convention process -- where Wyoming Republicans have conducted a presidential preference vote. That vote, in turn, has selected roughly half of the Equality state's delegates to the Republican National convention. The other portion of delegates are elected at the later state convention.

But 2016 will be different for Wyoming Republicans.

Again, the tinkering that the RNC has done to the national party delegate selection rules has sent some state parties scrambling in an attempt to maintain or come back into compliance. That has led to action on the state level that reveals some variance in the interpretation of the national party rules. In Wyoming's case, state party bylaws permit the party to hold a "straw poll" -- presidential preference vote -- in January or February. Since those types of votes are required now by the national party rules to bind delegates to particular candidates, a January or February vote would place Wyoming in violation of the Republican National Committee rules.

To come out from under the shadow of sanctions from the national party, Wyoming Republicans have opted to schedule their precinct caucuses on March 1 and to conduct a straw poll -- presidential preference vote -- at that stage. Delegate candidates for the county conventions -- on Saturday, March 12 -- will be required to state their candidate preferences at the precinct stage.

What does all this mean?

For starters, there is a date on which the Wyoming Republican Party delegate selection process will begin: March 1. Also, though, we can glean from this action that the state party felt compelled to move everything -- every step of the caucus/convention process -- beyond the February/March line between carve-out states and the beginning of the proportionality window. In other words, unlike Colorado, Wyoming Republicans perceived a need to move the precinct caucus stage (with a straw poll vote) out of the carve-out state window for 2016. The new binding requirement from the RNC and stiffer penalties for contests starting before March 1 prompted Wyoming Republicans to delay the start of their delegate selection process until March.

Compared to 2012, the 2016 Wyoming Republican Party will begin its delegate selection process in March and with a binding straw poll vote.

A tip of the cap to Liberty News for flagging the central committee changes for FHQ.

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Georgia Presidential Primary Set for March 1

This is not surprising news, but the Georgia presidential primary for 2016 is now formally set for March 1, SEC primary day.

Four years ago, the Georgia state legislature -- mimicking the method long used in New Hampshire -- ceded the power to set the date of the presidential primary in the Peach state to the secretary of state. The objective was not only to streamline the process of setting the date, but to also buy the state a bit more time in that process. By law, the work of the Georgia legislature is typically done by the beginning of May; one of the earliest adjournment points in the country. That puts Georgia at a disadvantage if other states decide to conduct earlier primaries later in that year leading up to the point at which voters are actually casting ballots in the nomination races.

So, if Florida decides late to move its primary to January, Georgia -- under the old law -- was stuck without any way of also shifting its primary to an advantageous position on the calendar.

But again, that changed in 2011. The secretary of state's office in Georgia gained the ability to set the date of the presidential primary. That made Georgia a bit of a free agent state as the calendar chaos was winding down in September 2011. Then as now, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp waited until September to finalize the date of the contest. Then as now, Secretary Kemp also set the date for the first Tuesday in March.

Unlike 2011, though, this was not much of a surprise. Kemp has spearheaded the entire SEC primary movement for the last couple of years. He has talked up the March 1 date and Georgia's place there throughout the intervening months. However, the election had not been formally set. That changed today.

Georgia is set for March 1. The Peach state will vote then alongside Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. And Georgia trails only Texas in terms of the number of delegates available (in a given state) on March  1.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

North Carolina House Votes Not to Concur With Senate on March 15 Presidential Primary Bill

The North Carolina House on Tuesday, September 2 vote unanimously -- 104-0 -- to not concur with the Senate changes to HB 373. That bill would move the presidential primary in the Tar Heel state back into compliance with Republican National Committee delegate selection rules with a March election.

The motion to not concur was brought by North Carolina Republican National Committeeman and state Rep. David Lewis (R-53rd, Harnett).

The bill now heads to a conference committee to work out the issues between the two chambers. Meanwhile the clock is ticking down to the October 1 RNC deadline that requires state parties to have their delegate selection plans finalized.

UPDATE: 2:15pm
Gary Robertson at the Associated Press has more on the motivation behind the move to shift the discussion of HB 373 to a conference committee:
Lewis and Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, told The Associated Press lawmakers are discussing several other election changes, many of them technical and some sought by the State Board of Elections. But they also said separately that holding only one primary in March also was being examined.
There is a lot layered into such a short bill. The expenditure for a separate presidential primary election has always been present, though not a sticking point in the proceedings to this point. Democrats in the minority in both chambers of the General Assembly have favored the later and consolidated May primary date, but majority Republicans have largely ignored that issue to this point. Creating a consolidated primary but scheduling it for March would follow the lead of states like Arkansas (earlier this cycle) and Alabama (in 2011). That would reduce the state and county spending on elections, but have ramifications elsewhere. Filing deadlines, for example would have to shift likely into December (from February) if they are to maintain the same filing window.

Bear in mind also, that this bill currently changes not only the date of the North Carolina presidential primary, but also resets the baseline method of delegate allocation in the state. To this point, state law has required a proportional allocation of national convention delegates. HB 373, however, switches that to a winner-take-all requirement. The only relief state parties have from that mandate is if that winner-take-all requirement is inconsistent with national party rules. North Carolina Democrats would then be able to adopt alternate proportional allocation rules in line with DNC requirements.

A winner-take-all allocation for North Carolina Republicans, on the other hand, would be consistent with RNC rules, but would seemingly conflict with the proportional state party rules (re)adopted at the state convention earlier this year. The proposed change in HB 373 does not include an exemption if the state law and state party allocation rules are mismatched. Yet, the RNC rules give precedence to the state party rules if such a conflict exists.

[NOTE: FHQ just spoke with Gary Robertson at AP and he said that Rep. Lewis in his comments to the press after the House vote did not bring up the allocation provision as one that required any further ironing out in HB 373. But it was not a matter that was asked about either.]

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Missouri Republicans Abandon Winner-Take-All Delegate Allocation Rules

Jo Mannies at St. Louis Public Radio is reporting that the Missouri Republican Party has opted to drop its traditional winner-take-all method of allocating delegates through its March 15 primary in 2016.1

This is an interesting development out of the Show-Me state.

One thing that FHQ wants to impress upon regular readers and passersby alike during this 2016 cycle is the distinction between strictly winner-take-all states and every other type of allocation plan that other states are utilizing. The truly winner-take-all states award the winner of the primary all of the delegates available from that state. That is true even if the candidate wins only a plurality by one vote over another candidate. This is how Florida will allocate delegates in 2016. It is how Missouri Republicans have tended to allocate delegates in the years in which they have held a presidential primary.

The reason for that emphasis -- on strictly winner-take-all and everything else -- is that in a closely contested race with a large field, that difference in allocation methods makes a large difference.2 Winner-take-all contests create delegate count separation that a proportional allocation does not provide. That competition also means that the hybrid allocation methods (including plans like those winner-take-most/winner-take-all by congressional district, like Missouri's) tend to end up closer to the proportional end of the spectrum than the winner-take-all side.

States switching to and from strictly winner-take-all rules, like Missouri Republicans have just done, are a pretty big deal. That is the reason that FHQ continues to point out here, on Twitter and to anyone who will listen that there are only a handful of these truly winner-take-all states (Arizona, Delaware, Florida, New Jersey, Utah and Washington DC as well as probably North Carolina and Ohio) on the board. There are not post-March 14 states -- those after the proportionality window closes -- that are lining up to be winner-take-all contests.

But, looking at that list, there are several that are clustered on March 15 (Florida and probably North Carolina and Ohio) and March 22 (Arizona and Utah). Missouri on March 15 will not be a winner-take-all contest. In fact, it will be the only contest on that date that is not winner-take-all (or a primary like the one in Illinois in which delegates are directly elected).

That -- Missouri's switch to a winner-take-all by congressional district method -- carries both risk and reward. The reward is that the move is likely to attract candidates to the state in the near term and eventually next year when the primary is approaching. However, the gamble is that the shift will mean that Missouri might not carry as much weight in the delegate count as it could or once did.

The reward seems to have won out in Missouri and that is borne out elsewhere as well, as post-March 14 states are not moving to winner-take-all methods en masse. The opposite may be true, and that has potential implications for how quickly someone arrives at the requisite number of delegates necessary to claim the Republican presidential nomination.

1 The state legislature's inability to reschedule the 2012 Show-Me state presidential primary for a compliant (not February) date in 2011 forced the Missouri Republican Party to conduct later, compliant caucuses instead. Those caucuses had no clear delegate binding mechanism. Missouri's delegation went to the Tampa convention pledged/aligned with particular candidates, but not bound to them. In any event, the 2012 caucuses did not feature a winner-take-all allocation either.

2 And to be entirely truthful, it really does not take a large field to accomplish this difference, just competition. The 2012 cycle is a good example of that. And yes, the field will also winnow. We just don't know exactly how yet.

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