Contested election

Explanation of a ‘brokered’ or contested U.S. presidential election.

The 2016 Republican convention is scheduled for the week of July 18th in Cleveland, OH. There are several potential outcomes but one is that there will be a contested convention. Would you like a reminder about what a ‘brokered’ or contested election is? I’m hoping that I’m not the only one who is unclear on the circumstances that would bring one about and what that situation would look like.

A Contested Convention

A Republican candidate (at this point Trump, Cruz or Kasich) needs to win a majority of the 2472 Republican delegates (at least 1,237) to become the nominee. The state primaries end on June 7th.  If no candidate has won a majority of the delegates, things get complicated.

At the Republican convention, the candidates can try to win over the roughly 5% ‘unbound’ delegates (those who are not required to support a specific candidate due to party rules) before the first roll call begins. The number of unbound delegates is not clear at this point but it could be several hundred. If no one accumulates a minimum of 1,237 delegates during the first vote then all the committed delegates are released and are free to vote for any nominee they want.

If there is a second round of voting, the candidates compete for the votes of all of the delegates. There will be more rounds of voting until one candidate emerges with the majority of delegate votes. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Apparently it is. From what I’ve read, fistfights are possible. It’s down and dirty politics at its worst. It sounds like a great spectator sport to me. I hope the convention proceedings will be televised at a reasonable hour!

The terms ‘brokered’ and ‘contested are used interchangeably but contain a very slight difference. In the old days (like the 1920 election) the party bosses wielded a great deal of influence over the freed delegates, and the candidate was chosen through ‘brokered’ backroom deals. In the modern political arena since the primary system began in the 1970s, political leaders have less influence and a candidate emerges through the voting process. The term contested is used to describe that process.

Since Kasich won Ohio, Trump needs to win 60% of the remaining delegates to secure the nomination. That will not be easy, making the possibility of a contested convention even more likely. If there is a contested convention, there is the possibility of a white knight (a candidate other than the three remaining contenenders) being nominated. This is likely because the GOP leadership is not backing Trump, so an alternative is appealing. The two names mentioned most often as possible white knights are Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

There is something called Rule 40 which our reader Pam helped us understand. Rule 40 requires a candidate to have the support of the majority of delegates in at least 8 states in order to have their name placed in nomination at a convention. Hmmm…then how can a white knight be placed in nomination if they haven’t even run in any primaries?  Note that Rule 40 does not say that a candidate has to have won at least 8 states during the primaries, or to have run in the primaries, it only requires that a majority of delegates from 8 states have declared their support, and that could happen at a second round convention vote. A third possibility is that Rule 40 can be rewritten at the convention to adapt to any other possible unforeseen situations.

The Democrats are not exactly free from convention risks. At this point it looks as if Hillary has a pretty good shot at accumulating the majority of delegate votes for the nomination. If she is indicted, however, things could change. If she steps aside after securing the nomination, the Democratic National Committee could decide on a replacement on its own. If the indictment comes before the convention, the situation is more complicated. If her delegates go to Sanders, he could secure the nomination. The delegates could unify over a new candidate, however, especially if the DNC does not support Sanders. Vice President Biden is most often mentioned as a possibility. John Kerry is another possibility.

Hang onto your hats, this election year is proving to be really interesting in many ways. At the very least, we’re all learning a great deal about our unique political system.