Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Election

How may delegates does Mitt Romney have? That, seven states into the nomination process, depends on who you ask! As of Feb 10th, it looked like this:

Republican Presidential Delegate Scorecard by Media Outlet
News outlet
Associated Press
The Hill
New York Times
Real Clear Politics

But the real answer is even more chaotic:
  • Gingrich has a lawsuit against Florida because the RNC rules state that all delegates must be allocated proportionally. Florida went "winner take all" but also moved its vote up--so it was penalized by half its delegate count. If it breaks two rules, apparently there's no further punishment. The lawsuit may (or may not) resolve it to anybody's satisfaction.
  • As I've said here, the actual delegates from the caucus states are not actually allocated the night of the vote. The allocation process happens later and is not subject to the vote itself. As a result, not only is Ron Paul trying to get more delegates than his popular vote would indicate but the same issues could apply to other candidates due to more random reasons.
  • In the Maine caucus one district was canceled due to bad weather (apparently the weather was not bad enough to cancel a girl scout event--leading to charges of pro-Romney shenanigans). There, apparently, will be an actually follow-up vote that may or may not count. Paul could still win. Maybe: The outcome will certainly be different than if everything had happened the way it was originally planned. Ron Paul--who did very well in that county in 2008, will push extra hard for a super-blow-out win ... and he might get it.
What Does This Mean?
We saw something similar to this in 2008 with Hillary and Obama. How each candidate counted their votes--and delegates--was something of a lesson in seeing things the way they wanted to.  In Michigan, in 2008, because of specific issues around the dates and regulations, Obama urged supporters to write in "uncommitted." As there was no way to distinguish the word "uncommitted" from either a vote for Obama or an uncommitted voter the exact totals could not be counted. These were questions that would remain until the very end. There was even talk of a "brokered convention" where neither candidate would have enough delegates to win coming in so the convention would become a circus as supporters, in a panic, vied for favor with the super-delegates.

Talking Points Media has an interesting article on what might happen if there is a Republican brokered convention but the fact is, nobody knows how it'd turn out even speculatively (interestingly, in the event of a brokered convention a second Ron Paul secret plan could come into play. If some actual for-other-candidate delegates are secretly pro-Ron Paul, after the first vote they can do whatever they want). The going thinking, however, is that, in a panic, the party would try to go with the most conventional candidate they could get--who had already been vetted--and try to throw in a VP who brings the base. Read HotAir here:
If the convention did deadlock on the first ballot and some establishment favorite emerged as the knight in shining armor — Daniels, Bush, Christie — would a populist favorite jump in as an alternative? If so, who? Remember, if we got to that point, the party would be in a white-knuckle panic that its nominee would be fatally weakened against Obama in the general. Electability, or perceived electability, would be prized then even more than it is now as a way to overcome the chaos of the convention and the fact that the nominee would be starting with little or no organization. That gives the establishment candidate a heavy advantage, especially if he can entice populist-minded delegates by naming a grassroots hero (like Rubio, say) as VP in advance.
This isn't what the base wants to here and could, for example, provoke a 3rd party run or otherwise cause even deeper rifts.

Note that RCP Analyst Sean Trende finds the numbers make it unlikely that there will be a brokered convention. For one thing, all three potential candidates will have to remain viable throughout the race. While Gingrich might hold up in the south that's looking somewhat less likely as his fundraising dwindles. I suspect that while Gingrich remains easily vulnerable to negative ads people are going to be reluctant to back him.

What Do I Think?
Back in 2008 I read Hillary supporters saying the caucus system was broken because small numbers of partisans could game it. Additionally, many of the votes were public and there were charges that fear of being perceived as racist led people to vote Obama rather than their heart: Hillary (I'm not surprised 'sexist' doesn't rate). There were also allegations of 'Massive Electoral Fraud' (link is to NewsMax which I do not consider reliable).

At the time I didn't think much of it. But I'm starting to reconsider. It's not that I have a particular problem with Ron Paul gaming the system or even with no one knowing what the actual counts are--but it seems that in the 21st century we should have, if not from-your-home computerized voting (imagine how that would change things: if the barrier to entry for casting a vote was just logging in and clicking a candidate!) we should, I'd say, know who is winning after two months of nomination. I also think that having these secret procedural holes makes the whole enterprise less respectable in the end.

I didn't like it when the supreme court had to decide between Gore and Bush (note: as the election was very, very, very close I didn't consider that element a travesty of justice the way some did) and I don't like election-by-legal-system which is what Gingrich is attempting (at least in Florida).

So I'll say this: thus far this has been a messy nomination. Partially because of rules-loopholes created by the RNC specifically doing things to drag out the nomination--something I'd say they probably wish they hadn't at this point (that link is Chris Christie, a Romney backer, saying There Will Be No Brokered Convention--but that's because Romney Will Be The Nominee--something he'd better say).

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