What is a Contested Convention?

Since most delegates are required by state law or party rules to vote based on primary or caucus results, a candidate who secures the support of at least 50 % plus one delegate (1,237 delegates in 2016) automatically wins the party nomination. Historically, the identities of eventual nominees are known long before conventions begin since most frontrunners usually accumulate delegates far beyond the required minimum well in advance. However, there have been two instances when the candidates have failed to do so.

The most recent one was in 1976, where the incumbent, former president Gerald Ford, who was locked in a fierce battle against another former president Ronald Reagan, failed to secure the 1,128 delegates required to win the nomination. This led to a contested convention, where delegates had to cast their votes to determine the party's presidential nominee. Ford eventually prevailed over Reagan after the first round of balloting by 1,187 to 1,070 delegates. Had Ford been unsuccessful in winning the majority, the second round of balloting would elevate a significant number of delegates into free agents, and allow them to vote for whomever they desire.

28 years earlier than that, during the 1948 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, the Republican Party witnessed its first ever contested election when an eleven-man field (including ballots for “Favorite Son”, a popular “none of the above” choice) prevented the frontrunner, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, from obtaining the required 548 delegates to clinch the nomination. The heated and hot-tempered contest, which featured, among others, five-star general and war hero General Douglas MacArthur and Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft, finally ended after the third round of voting after Senator Taft conceded defeat and the other candidates fell in line.

Ultimately, the highly divisive convention fractured the Republican Party badly, and they threw away a huge advantage over President Harry Truman’s beleaguered administration. Less than five months later, Truman convincingly prevailed over Dewey in the presidential election.

Delegates Voting Rules at the 2016 Republican National Convention

There are two types of delegates that will be voting at the 2016 Republican National Convention. The first type is the bound district and at-large delegates. These delegates are required by state laws and/or state party rules to vote in accordance with the popular vote, i.e. they will have to vote for the winner of their respective states’ primary and caucus, either in totality or proportionally.

The second type of delegates is the unbound district and at-large delegates. These delegates are free to vote for any candidate based on their personal judgement. There are at least 336 confirmed unbound delegates at the time of writing:

(i) 112 delegates from states and territories which held no primaries or caucuses - American Samoa (9), Colorado (37), Guam (9), North Dakota (28) and Wyoming (29)

(ii) At least 2 unbound delegates from the contentious U.S. Virgin Islands caucus

(iii) 54 delegates from Pennsylvania, based on state party rules

(iv) 168 officials of the Republican National Committee (RNC)

At the convention, votes will only be counted for candidates who have fulfilled Rule 40 (b) (Eight-State Rule) of the RNC, which stipulates that a candidate must win at least 50% of the votes in eight primaries or caucuses. This rule will exclude all but two of the candidates, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. This means that the several hundred delegates (346, as of April 13) bound to John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Mick Huckabee and Rand Paul will all have to cast in favor of either Mr. Trump or Sen. Cruz.

This basically means that there are an additional 682 delegates (336+346) that could vote for either Sen. Cruz or Mr. Trump at the Convention during the first round of balloting.

If neither candidate manages to secure 1,237 delegates, the balloting will go to Round 2. This is where it gets interesting. Again, depending on obscure individual state laws and state party rules, delegates may become unbound and be free to vote using their own judgements. Some states though, like Florida, bounds all 99 delegates for three rounds of balloting. Regardless, after the first round of balloting, there will be a growing number of faithless delegates that can cast their votes for any candidate.

Since most of the delegates are long-time party loyalists, candidates who have invested time and resources canvassing potential delegates for the last few months will have an advantage in this scenario, even if the majority of delegates will only be selected between April and June. Nevertheless, these party stalwarts will ultimately be making their decisions that will benefit the party the most.

Interestingly, Curly Haugland, a veteran convention delegate, National Committeeman for North Dakota and RNC Standing Rules Committee member, argued that no delegates are bound to any candidates at Cleveland – even in the first round of voting. In a statement sent to RNC members, Haugland stated that RNC’s Rule 38 (Unit Rule), which has been in place since 1923, forbids any delegates to be bound.

“No delegate or alternate delegate shall be bound by any attempt of any state or Congressional district to impose the unit rule. A “unit rule” prohibited by this section means a rule or law under which a delegation at the national convention casts its entire vote as a unit as determined by a majority vote of the delegation.”


In a separate interview in March, Mr. Haugland further stated that the only time delegates have been bound was at the 1976 Republican National Convention where a “Justice Resolution” was introduced to bind delegates to primaries and caucuses results. However, the “Justice Resolution” was rescinded in the following convention in 1980.

It is worth pointing out that all the rules governing delegates’ selection at state and district levels can be changed with very little notice. The situation is very fluid. Already we’ve seen a change of rule made by the Oregon Republican Party, which now binds the state top three party leaders to its primary result. Changes are also expected at the Republican National Convention when the Rules Committee convenes a week before the convention starts.

So please, no one starts counting their chickens just yet – there might not even be eggs.





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 2016 Republican Convention
 
  Resolutions Committee Convenes
July 11-12, 2016  |  Party Platform Drafted

  Rules Committee Convenes
July 14-15, 2016  |  Convention Rules Adopted

 
 
Monday, July 18, 2016  |  Make America Safe Again

 
 
Tuesday, July 19, 2016  |  Make America Work Again

 
 
Wednesday, July 20, 2016 |  Make America First Again

 
 
Thursday, July 21, 2016  |  Make America One Again

 
 Republican Convention Speeches
   
Scott Baio
Kimberlin Brown
Mark Burns
Dr. Ben Carson
Chris Christie
David A. Clarke Jr.
Ted Cruz
Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn
Newt Gingrich
Rudy Giuliani
Laura Ingraham
Marcus Luttrell
Mike Pence
Marco Rubio
Paul Ryan
Fran Tarkenton
Peter Thiel
Melania Trump
Eric Trump
Tiffany Trump
Donald Trump, Jr.
Ivanka Trump
Donald J. Trump
Scott Walker
74 RNC Speeches and Transcripts
 
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