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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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National Political Conventions – Delegates And Nominating A Presidential Candidate

The national political conventions – for both the Republican and Democratic parties – are the occasion where the respective parties nominate their candidate for each cycles’ Presidential election.  At the convention, the parties’ Presidential nominee is determined by the majority votes cast be the collected convention delegates from across the nation.

Clearly the delegates to the conventions have a very important role.  So how many come from each state, who are they, and what activities do they actually perform? The answers to these questions are very complicated – and vary between parties – but I will do my best to simplify it.

How Many Delegates Per State?

State Delegate Count

Every state sends its own delegates for the national parties to each convention.  There is no simple formula for the number of delegates each state sends, but it will be dependent partially on the state’s population and partially on how much influence the party structure at the state level has with the national party.

Misbehaving States can Lose Delegates

Sometimes, if a state party makes a decision that antagonizes the national party organization, the state will have its delegate count at the national convention reduced – or even eliminated – as a punishment for stepping out of line.  Both the DNC and RNC use this sanction as a tool to discourage states from holding their state primaries or caucuses too early in the presidential campaign season.

Who Are The State Delegates?

Delegate Selection Occurs at a State Level

Again, not an easy question to answer.  When it comes to the organization of the political parties, a lot of these types of decisions are set by internal rules and regulations of the respective parties.  Not only this, but a lot of the decisions are made at an individual state level, so the rules for who becomes the Texas delegates to the Democratic Party convention may be considerably different to the rules regarding who is selected as the Oregon delegates for the Republican Party convention.

The individuals chosen will be with those with support the parties grassroots all the way down to the level of the individual precinct chairmen, who usually vote indirectly on their selection at county conventions, or more directly at the state convention level.

Assignment of Candidates Supporters by the Democratic Party

For the Democrats, the delegates are usually chosen proportionally from party officials who are supporters of the various Democratic presidential candidates that were on the ballot in the states’ primary or caucus – where voters have their say on whom their preferred nominee is.

Rules for Republican Party Delegate Assignment

For the Republicans, the process is similar.  However, while in some states the delegates are assigned proportionately according to the support the candidates receive in the primary/caucus voting, in other states there is a winner take all process.

This means that for those states one candidate may win the primary by only a few hundred votes yet picks up the states entire delegate pool for the national convention.   To most people this seems rather odd – perhaps unfair – but the rules of the political system are full of strange quirks like this; just consider the Electoral College as another example.

The Mysterious Superdelegate

Apart from the delegates chosen to represent individual candidates based on primary results, both parties have a number of delegate slots reserved for important party officials.  These delegates are informally referred to ‘superdelegates’ by outside observers, and are not pledge to any particular candidate prior to the national convention.

What Do The Delegates Do?

A National Convention Delegates Job on a Good Day

The answer to this question is that usually the delegates really do not do much.  There will be a lot of discussion about the direction of the party, plenty of listening to speeches and of course plenty of cheering for the nominee.   The reason for this is a variation of the old saw that ‘all politics is local’, most important decisions have already been made at the individual states conventions for the party prior to the national one.

It is already known which delegates are supporters of which candidates – and while the possibility exists for ‘faithless delegates’ to switch their vote, it is uncommon and would have to occur in significant numbers to make a difference in all but the tightest contents.  Thus the delegates are largely there to go through the motions of selecting the preordained nominee, and keeping the national media’s focus on the candidate for a few days.

Brokered Conventions – When Every Delegate Counts

There is the occasional situation, however, when these delegates will find themselves busy with very important work.  If no candidate has managed to ‘win’ enough delegates thru the various primaries and caucuses held across the nation prior to the national convention, a brokered convention will occur.

When the voting fails to secure a majority of the delegates for one candidate, delegates are released from their pledge to the initial candidate they supported.  In this brokered convention scenario various negotiations proceed amongst those in attendance until finally one of the candidates is able to secure majority support, at which point the parties Presidential nominee is finally determined.

 

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Precinct Chairman – Why Citizens Should Be Precinct Chairs

Many voters feel they are not properly represented in government by either the Republican or the Democratic parties. There are several ways disgruntled voters can deal with this unfortunate reality.

Ineffective Voter Coping Mechanisms

Drop Out of the Electoral Process

Some people choose not to vote, given the lack of appealing candidates.  This is by far the easiest way to cope, but is also the least productive.  By not voting these people are not only giving up the opportunity to influence elections, they are failing to perform what many would consider their civic duty.

Vote for the Least Unpleasant Party

Another portion of the electorate responds by simply voting for the party they find less odious.  They choose the ‘lesser of two evils’.  While at least they are casting their vote, they are rarely excited about the people they elect.  The best result they can hope for is that those they dislike most do not gain office.

The Third Party Protest Vote

Others will choose to vote for a third party – such as the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party or any of a raft of lesser known alternatives.  These people may gain the satisfaction of having voted their principles, but when push comes to shove they seldom have any of their candidates gain office.  The chief impact these parties have at the polls is that if they draw sufficient votes from one or other of the mainstream parties they can tip a Democratic seat Republican, or alternatively a Republican seat Democratic, depending on the demographic makeup of the voters involved.

All of these options, in one way or the other, lesson an individual voters impact on our democracy.  Thankfully there is a better solution available.

Respond Positively – Get Involved

Become a Precinct Chair!

I am far from the first person to look at these options and wish there were a better alternative.  Thankfully there is such an alternative; to get involved in politics yourself!  You might think that doing this means running for congress, or some other highly public elected office, but this is not the case at all.

There are simple ways to get involved that don’t require you to have the personality of a politician, while still allowing you to have an impact.  This is where precinct politics comes into play!  Precinct officials are the grassroots of a political party, and indirectly influence the political parties’ policies and the candidates they nominate for elections. This is a place where a citizen upset with the status quo can easily make a difference!  So, what exactly is a precinct?

Precincts and Precinct Chairs Definition – What are they?

A precinct is a small geographical area that covers a number of potential voters.  Usually the number of voters in precinct will be somewhere between 1000 and 4000.  The precinct is the base of all political activities in political parties, and is the home of what many consider the most important elected official there is – the precinct chair.  For information on determining your precinct number, or whether you have a precinct chairman, read this article on gathering your basic precinct info.

The definition of a precinct chair – sometimes referred to as the precinct committeeman, precinct committee person,  or precinct committee officer – is an elected official of a political party that represents the interest of voters in his or her precinct within the party itself.  These positions are voted only the voters who live in a particular precinct.  In an ideal world, each precinct would have an active Republican precinct chair and an active Democratic precinct chair; however often times this is not the situation on the ground. One of the parties positions – particularly if the party is the weaker of the two where you live – will frequently have many precinct chair openings, which they are often desperate to fill.

Can I Really Become Precinct Chair?

Becoming a precinct chair is often easy.  Let me say that again as it bears repeating, becoming a precinct chair is often easy!  The main reason for that in order to be the precinct chair for a party you have to actually live in the bounds of the precinct.  If there are no politically active supporters of your party of choice living within a few streets of your home, it is quite possible the position of precinct chair is open to anyone who is interested.  When you are running for office unopposed it is very difficult to lose!  Even if these is an existing precinct chair, if they are relatively inactive there is a strong chance you could beat them at the polls just by asking a couple of your neighbors to vote for you on Primary day.

If your precinct does not have a precinct chair for your party, there are two ways to gain that office.  The first, if the timing is right, is register with your local party officials to get your name on the ballot.  This is free, and the requirements to do so are very easy to meet.  When you do this you – if you are the only candidate – will automatically become the precinct chair when the next Primary elections occur.

Most times during the election cycle however, you will need to apply to get yourself appointed to fill a vacant precinct chair position by the local party authorities.  This may sound difficult, but it really is not that hard.  While you may think the party powers that be would not want to pick a random outsider to fill a spot, they usually prefer just about anyone to having the position empty.

Naturally, you don’t want to show up at a meeting where they are voting on your appointment to the precinct chair position looking unkempt, you will want to make a good first impression – visible tattoos and eyebrow piercings might scare off many of the often middle aged or older party members who are members of party committees.

All Politics is Local – Precinct Chairs can Change their Party for the Better

It is surprising to many people just how easy it is for the average Joe (or Jill) Citizen to get involved themselves in the mainstream political process for either the Republican or Democratic Party.  Once you have taken up the reins as your local precinct chairman or chairwoman, you will be an – admittedly small – part of the party machine; and in the future can find yourself part of party conventions at the county or state level.  If you really get involved you may even find yourself becoming a delegate at the parties national convention.  Your next step is to start to change your chosen party for the better, but that is a subject for a different post!

If all this sounds interesting to you, and you would like some help getting your start at the grassroots level of the Democratic Party, feel free to contact me and I will do my very best to help you out!