Republicans’ remodeled 2012 primary rules worked, sort of

Mitt Romney may not have liked it, but the new rules the Republican Party put in place for presidential the 2012 election season might have had a positive, pro-democracy effect.  In 2010, the Republican National Committee (RNC) changed its rules in order to delay the start of voting, to discourage the front-loading of state contests, and to allocate early states’ delegates by proportional representation instead of winner-take-all. Even though the 2012 rules ultimately managed to yield precisely the same result that everyone expected when the whole shebang began—Mitt Romney as the presidential nominee—they still gave primary voters a chance to at least look at other potential nominees—as weak and unsuitable as they were.

And you have to give at least some grudging credit to the RNC for its recent decision not to go back to the old compressed system full of winner-take-all contests, says Fair Vote, a non-partisan think tank dedicated to election reform.

The fact that the 2012 contest lasted as long as it did is an affirmation of the value of the changes, but there’s still a long way to go, says Fair Vote.

…we would encourage Republicans, as well as Democrats, to consider further improvements that will ensure future nomination contests balance the goals of freedom of choice, maximum participation, and success in nominating a representative candidate.

Fair Vote recently released [March 15, 2012] an analysis of Romney’s delegate total under the 2012 rules, comparing

the existing tally of delegates [in contests through March 13, 2012] to what it would be in two alternative scenarios: if all states used winner-take-all to allocate delegates, and if all states use a proportional method of allocation based on each state’s popular vote.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, current projected delegate totals for frontrunner Mitt Romney are far closer to what they would have been if every state had used a winner-take-all rule for allocating delegates than if they had used proportional allocation of delegates. Romney’s share of delegates currently is projected at 52.1%. If every state and territory had allocated delegates by winner-take-all, his share of delegates would be just 53.0%.

The report then offers a chart projecting the share of delegates won if all had been allocated by winner-take-all, vs. all delegates allocated by proportional representation. Under a proportional allocation system, Romney would have had 39.3% of the delegates.

To see a full state-by-state analysis, download this Excel spreadsheet.

Given the imperfections of what occurred in 2012, here’s what Fair Vote would like to see Republicans and Democrats do for the 2016 election cycle:

  • Make it clear that any state violating the proposed schedule in 2016 will lose all its delegates: This change is almost certainly the only way to stop Florida from again violating the party’s plan to have the first states vote in February.
  • Enforce stricter proportionality in contests held before April 1: Too many states like Florida used winner-take-all in early contests despite the 2010 rules, and many states that used proportionality employed mixed, quirky forms that still created substantial distortions in voter preferences. (Note that the Democrats wisely use proportional representation for all presidential nomination contests.)
  • Adopt ranked choice ballots to handle fractured votes: Due to the media’s obsession with “winning,” we should allow voters to cast ranked choice ballots, which would allow us to determine which of the vote-leaders would have won if matched one-on-one against his or her top opponent.
  • Adopt ranked choice ballots to handle overseas voters: Ranked choice ballots at least should be cast by overseas voters so they don’t end up having their ballots count for a candidate who has dropped out since mailing in their ballot.