Friday, March 11, 2016
Billy Long offers thoughts on contested conventions
If you’ve kept up with the 2016 race for the White House, you may have noticed that there’s been a lot of speculation as to whether the Democratic or Republican National Conventions might be “contested.” This presidential election cycle already has political scientists and everyday voters alike in uncharted territory when it comes to making predictions, but I think it’s important for people to understand how a contested nomination process would work due to their unpredictable natures and the potential demand for Congress’ enhanced scrutiny on previously unanalyzed legislative initiatives.
The nomination process starts at the ballot box; each state’s Republican and Democratic primary or caucus results determine how its allotted delegates will be divided among presidential candidates. Some states are ‘winner-take-all,’ while others distribute their allotted delegates proportionate to final vote tallies. To earn an outright nomination, either party’s candidates must earn at least a 50 percent majority of overall party delegates; Democratic candidates must earn 2,383 of the Democratic National Convention’s (DNC) 4,934 delegates, while Republican candidates must earn 1,247 of the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) 2,472 total delegates.
Most delegates’ votes at both conventions must initially reflect results of their state’s primary or caucus results. However, if these majority thresholds aren’t met after this first ballot, delegates would barter and cast ballots unrestricted until a majority coalesced behind their respective nominees.
At the Democratic National Convention, there are two types of delegates: pledged and unpledged. Pledged delegates consist of congressional district delegates, at-large delegates, and pledged party leaders and elected officials (PLEO delegates). Pledged delegates’ first ballot votes adhere to their state or district’s party election results. The Democratic Party outlines the rules for choosing pledged delegates in state delegations, which include strict guidelines for the overall delegate demographic makeup.
Unpledged “superdelegates,” make up 15 percent of total delegates (714 in 2016), and consist of Democratic members of Congress, governors, or party leaders. These party insiders are able to lend their support to the candidate of their choosing or even change the candidate they’re choosing to support at any time – whether it is long before or during the convention process. The DNC introduced their input to the process after a chaotic 1968 Democratic National Convention – when President Johnson’s Vice President Hubert Humphrey was nominated despite party voters’ approximate 80% anti-war centered opposition.
Superdelegates could have the power to ratify voter nominee choices if they collectively feel that the frontrunner isn’t fit to lead the party and prefer another candidate. Also, this means 15 percent of the DNC delegate votes are hypothetically up for grabs; Democratic presidential candidates could lobby superdelegates long before the convention and enter the delegate ballot process with 15% of the convention’s votes.
The Republican National Convention, on the other hand, consists of three delegate types: congressional district delegates, of which each congressional district gets 3; at-large delegates, of which each state is assigned at least 10; and three RNC members representing each state and U.S. territory. In contrast to Democrats, the RNC allows greater leeway to state parties in allocating convention delegates and does not have stringent demographic requirements.
1976 was the last time a RNC National Convention came close to contested status. Neither Ronald Reagan nor Gerald Ford earned a majority of delegates and, in the end, delegates and party leaders had negotiated for a Ford victory before the first ballot vote.
Oppositely, a GOP or DNC contested convention in 2016 would not likely end as seamlessly given that parties have become mindful of disenfranchising voters in the age of social media. But, with sizable divides on candidates’ platforms between and amongst both parties on education, labor, national security, and the economy on at stake, the not-so far-fetched notion of a contested convention could mean that the next Congress will be tasked with vetting pivotal policies that Americans have had less time to consider.