Monday, February 11, 2008

Some Delegate Math

The main stream media in general is very confused about how the delegate system works for selecting a Presidential nominee. I wanted to correct some confusion.

The only vote that ultimately counts is the vote of the delegates. According to the NY Times, "In total, there are 4,049 Democratic and 2,380 Republican delegates. In order to win the nomination, a Democratic candidate must win 2,025 delegates and a Republican must win 1,191 delegates." What this means is that the only vote that matters is the vote of the delegates at the National Convention.

Delegates can either be pledged or unpledged. A pledged delegate must vote for the candidate he is pledged to. An unpledged delegate can vote for which ever candidate he wants. For the Republican party, here is a document explaining how each state or territory selects their delegates and how they are pledged. Every state is different. There is probably a similar document explaining how the Democratic party selects delegates. The Democratic party also has approximately 796 "super delegates." These are high ranking party officials that are unpledged. The Republican also gives a number of high ranking officials delegate status, but they don't use the term "super delegate." They just call them unpledged.

At the national convention, the delegates will vote. The delegates who are pledged vote for the candidate they are pledged to. The unpledged delegates can vote for whomever they want. If a candidate has a majority, the process is complete. If no candidate wins a majority, it becomes a "brokered convention." At that point, they will keep conducting votes until a candidate wins a majority. Between these votes, there will be much horse trading and political maneuvering to try to win delegates.

This is when it becomes very important for how the delegates are pledged. In most states, the delegates are pledged for just the first vote. In some states, they can be pledged for two or three votes. Once their pledge is fulfilled, they can vote for whomever they want.

Where it gets interesting is that in some states, the candidates aren't legally pledged to any candidate. For example, let's take the state of Washington. For the Republican party, there are 40 delegates from the state of Washington. There are 27 congressional district (CD) delegates (3 for each of the 9 congressional districts), 10 at large (AL) delegates, and 3 delegates chosen by the RNC. The Washington State Republican party has both a caucus and a primary.

So how are the delegates chosen? On February 19th, the Republican party held it's caucuses. At thousands of voting precincts around the state, voters arrived and picked a candidate. This is the "straw poll." This is the vote that is mentioned on CNN and there was a lot of controversy about this vote because the Republican party didn't fully count it and declared John McCain the winner even though it was possible for Huckabee to have won based on the remaining votes (they were only separated by a couple hundred). Many voters wrote down their straw poll vote and then left thinking they were done. It turns out the straw poll in a caucus state like Washington means almost nothing. The press seems to think it's all that matters. After the straw poll, the remaining voters went through the task of electing precinct delegates. These delegates then go to a county convention and they vote on who will be the CD delegates. These 27 delegates will then go to the national convention. The 10 AL delegates are chosen at the state convention in May.

Who will these CDs vote for? In Washington, they aren't legally bound. They are "morally bound" to follow the allocation. How is the allocation determined? For each congressional district, we ended up with two delegates. Two of the three delegates are allocated to the winner of the caucus straw poll. The third delegate is allocated to the winner of the primary in that congressional district (as I mentioned before, the Republican party does both a caucus and a primary in Washington state). The remaining 3 delegates are chosen by the Republican National Committee and they are completely unbound.

It turns out that a lot of Ron Paul supporters became precinct delegates in Washington on caucus night. They will choose the national delegates. I'm not sure that "morally bound" will mean anything to them given that the Republican party didn't even count all the votes. I also read an article that there were similar reports in another state on the Democratic side. In some precincts, Obama won the straw poll by a large margin and then most of his supporters left. The people remaining, mostly old party members and Hillary loyalists, then became the precinct delegates. Anything is possible with these complex rules.

Most caucus states have some variation of this -- the straw poll doesn't really matter much. Washington has the idea of being "morally bound," but in Iowa,, for example, the delegates are completely unbound. Huckabee may have won the straw poll, but did his supporters know enough to stick around for the delegate selection? And what if the selected delegates who appeared to be Huckabee voters actually supported another candidate? I don't know if that happened. Neither does the NY Times and this is why they don't include caucus numbers in their runnign delegate count like some other sites do.

In primary states, the rules are not so cut and dry either. For example, in the Republican process, many states, like Delaware, have primaries to pick a winner, but the delegates are chosen at a state convention. Those delegates are pledged to the winner for one vote at the convention. If it becomes a brokered convention, those delegates can vote for whomever they want. How are those delegates selected? They are selected at a state convention. So it just depends on who shows up to the state convention to determine where the loyalties of those delegates will be. In other primary states, like New York and California, the delegates are chosen by the candidate. They are likely to remain very loyal at the convention.

At this point, on the Republican side, it's pretty unlikely that we will have a brokered convention. If Romney had stayed in, there was a good chance it would have happened. Maybe Ron Paul would have won in the end. Abraham Lincoln only had 22 delegates in 1860, but he became the nominee because he was able to sway people at the brokered convention. Perhaps Romney dropped out to prevent this exact scenario from happening.

On the Democratic side, with only two candidates remaining, it's also unlikely we will have a brokered convention with the pledged delegates. The super delegate votes will likely decide the candidate, but there's a good chance they will vote based on who is leading the race.

1 comment:

T.J. said...

Once again, excellent post. Thank you. I hope your post and its vital information gets to those in need of clarification.