State Political Conventions – Selecting The National Convention Delegates

State conventions for the two major political parties are the place where – in presidential election years – the state party determines who will represent the state at the National convention later in the election season.

While the number of delegates (and also alternate delegates) assigned to each state is set by the party at the National level, the state determines who those people will be.  The voting to fill those National level delegate spots is done by the delegates sent to the state convention by the County or Senatorial District conventions held prior to the respective parties’ State conventions.

The individuals chosen to fill the National convention delegate spots are chosen by a variety of methods, which vary between political parties, and even across individual states.  These are some of the factors that frequently come into play.

Winner Take All Or Proportional

In some states, all the delegates sent to the national level are required to vote for the candidate that performs the best in the primary or caucuses statewide.  In these ‘winner take all’ states, a potential nominee either picks up the whole pool of delegates, or none at all.

Proportional Assignment of Delegates

In other states, a proportional system is used.  The number of delegates supporting each potential candidate is determined based on their proportion of the popular vote in the parties’ primary or caucus process. In some of these proportional vote states, a certain threshold of votes – usually expressed as a percentage of the vote – must be achieve in order for a candidate to receive a share of those delegates.

Winner Take All Delegate Assignment

Winner take all states are big prizes for candidates due to the concentration of delegates that can be picked up, and are often focused on by stronger candidates.  Candidates who have trouble winning states outright are often able to accumulate a fair number of delegates by achieving strong support in many proportional states.

Caucus Or Primary

Caucus Meetings

The most common way that the states electorate was polled on their preference for the parties presidential candidate used to be the caucus meeting. These are events that are organized by the party itself and allow participants to choose their preferred candidate in an open and transparent manner, with discussion allowed and encouraged at the caucus site. Today while many smaller states still use the Caucus system, the majority of states have switched to statewide primaries.

Primaries

A primary is organized and operated using the same process as occurs in the general election process.  Voting is usually held in the same places as for regular elections, and secret ballots are cast.  Primaries are subject to most of the same limitations as the presidential elections, such as restriction on electioneering at the polling locations.

Open Or Closed Primary

There are a variety of different rules that determine who may vote in the primary election for a political party.  These rules vary between the different states.  Overall there are three types of primary held – closed, semi-closed and open primaries.

Closed Primaries

In some states, only voters who are registered with a particular party may vote in the party’s primary.  This system – known as the closed primary – has a tendency to reward more extreme candidates (i.e. very conservative Republicans, or very liberal Democrats) as the majority of the voters will be those with strong political views in one direction or the other.

Semi Closed Primaries

In semi-closed primaries, unaffiliated voters are also eligible to vote in the primary.  This allows independents the options of choosing a parties primary to participate in.  These types of primaries are more likely to favor more moderate or centric candidates, who will have greater appeal to independent primary voters.

Open Primaries

Finally, in open primaries, any voter may participate in which ever primary he or she wishes (note that in all systems a voter may vote in only one primary per election cycle).  These are sometimes controversial, and claims will periodically arise that some primary voters will be members of the opposing party casting strategic votes, or simply trying to ‘make mischief’.

Pledged And Unpledged Delegates

Pledged Delegates

Pledged delegates are delegates bound to a candidate by the primary and/or caucus process. In theory they are legally bound to vote for the candidate they are officially affiliated with.  There is, however some controversy about this; and occasionally the topic of delegates switching to another candidate will come up as a possibility in situations where the delegate count between two candidates is close.

Unpledged Delegates

Unpledged delegates – or superdelegates – are a group of important party officials.  Many senior party leaders or elected officeholders – both past and present – get this status from the national party.  At the national convention these delegates may vote for whichever candidate they feel best, with no obligation to honor the wishes of others.

Congressional Delegates and At Large Delegates

Many states separate the pledged delegate slots into two pools, congressional and at-large delegates; both pools will have their slots filled by individuals chosen (or at least ratified) at the state convention. In both cases, individuals nominate themselves for the position by submitting a filing, but are usually chosen based on their activity within the party – and in particular their perceived loyalty to/work for the presidential candidate they will be representing.

Congressional District Delegates

The national delegates chosen to represent a particular congressional district will be chosen to reflect the support the various candidates for presidential nominee received in that district.  In a typical example there may be 3 delegates assigned for a particular congressional district, which will be assigned to the candidates according to the proportion of votes they picked up in the primary or caucus.

Statewide At Large Delegates

At-large delegates are – where applicable – chosen at the state convention based on the performance of each presidential candidate statewide.  The results of the primary voting determines how many of this group of delegates will be pledged to each of the presidential candidates at the national convention.

 

 

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