A funny thing happened to me on the way to my seat at the Republican Convention today. I saw a big sign for the 10th Congressional District, which is where I live, and Prince William County wasn’t seated there. After a little searching, I found out that I would be seated, and considered a voter in the 11th Congressional District, which is the district that most of Prince William County falls within. Apparently as a matter of convenience, while balloting today was by locality, votes were tabulated by Congressional District, which I understand is a somewhat unusual practice. What I have to wonder, as purely an academic exercise, is whether the distortions this would inevitably cause had an impact on the outcome of the close election for the nomination for the United States Senate.
In a convention, delegate votes are weighted by geographic area so that a large turnout from one area doesn’t swamp the overall results out of proportion to the electorate that resides within that area. Not only does this reward the party units that serve those areas for driving high turnout in their districts, but it helps keep in check any effort to have any particular area be over-represented in the results. It’s a good idea to do this, and has been a standard practice for decades.
So I’d think that if it’s useful to report results and weight votes by Congressional District, it would make sense to have delegates actually register and vote within the Congressional District in which they reside. Apples to apples, so to speak.
Instead, what happened is that delegates registered and voted by locality, and that total was aggregated into Congressional Districts which were then weighted. For many high-population localities, their locality is split between Congressional Districts. Such is the case with Prince William, which is split between the First, Tenth and Eleventh Congressional Districts. Instead, all of Prince William was assigned to the 11th District. Fairfax in its entirety was assigned to the 10th District. Apples to Oranges.
I am lead to understand that this is pretty rare; so rare its never been done before. At the last convention, delegates registered, voted, and were tabulated by locality. I’ve got to wonder why, and with anything political I have to imagine someone had a vested interest in this procedure and stood to benefit by this. No one makes changes like this without considering the political implications of that change, and no one pushes for the unusual without trying to obtain an advantage from it. That’s politics.
I would suspect neither Jim Gilmore, nor Bob Marshall’s campaign had anything to do with this. There was someone else more eggregiously seeking advantage today, and if there was any intent to effect an outcome here, that’s where I’d put my money. This could also simply be an effort by some committee to obtain an efficiency without realizing that shifting votes around like this could help or hurt someone, but as I said there’s too much at stake for someone not to pick up on the benefits that could accrue here. I don’t know why this decision was made, or whether anyone thought about what the impacts of this decision could be. We just know something unusual happened, and that the difference is made was somewhere between terribly insignificant and absolutely conclusive.
If we had the results for the Senate nomination vote by locality, which I doubt we’ll ever see, and tabulate them by locality comparing that outcome to the official results, we’d be able to figure out pretty quickly whether there was an appreciable difference in the outcome. I’m going to assume it would not have changed the outcome here, and even if it did there is no opportunity to have that outcome changed under Virginia law. What parties do to select their nominees is largely outside of the purview of the courts, with only a few exceptions which I do not believe would apply here even in the worst case. That makes this completely an academic exercise, so Republicans can understand for their future use what the impact of creating a disconnect like this can have.
I’d still rather have this academic exercise completed, so Virginia Republicans have more information with which to use when approving a convention’s rules. We have to make these decisions fully understanding the impacts that these decisions have. Leaving a few insiders with the only understanding of the impacts here is an invitation for abuse.
I kinda like apples to apples, you know what I mean?
UPDATE: Jim Young mentions that Robert’s Rules weren’t followed in regards to the withdrawal of Bob Berry, and speculates that this also may have changed the outcome in his post “Convention Observations — Rank Incompetence“.
UPDATE 2: NOVATownHall has much more in-depth reporting on how the election was conducted. There may be some substantial concerns here about the process, but as I said above, there is virtually no opportunity to overturn the results no matter what happened.
UPDATE 3: After some digging, the actual process to calculate delegate votes uses a locality’s raw and weighted votes, and simply adds them up by Congressional District. Since the raw votes and weighted votes are consistently calculated, there’s no risk of having the results skewed because they are aggregated and reported by Congressional District. RPV might want to rethink this reporting method at some point to prevent confusion, even if it makes it easier to read out the results.
I’m glad to find out that there’s no cause for concern here.
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