Next Steps for the 2016 Presidential Election: Delegates & Timing

A year from now, we will be fast approaching the initial Iowa Caucus vote, but much remains to be decided before the first voters cast their ballots in the 2016 presidential contest. Most of the uncompleted tasks involve delegate allocation and scheduling.

Today, it appears the Democrats will have 4,508 voting delegates at their national convention, which will likely occur either during the week of July 25th or Aug. 22nd. The Democratic National Committee has narrowed their convention site to three possibilities: New York City, Philadelphia and Columbus, OH. Republicans look to be gearing up for their convention during the week of July 18th, and they have already decided upon Cleveland as their gathering site. The total GOP delegate universe will be a much smaller 2,409.

Each party’s nomination rules will go a long way toward determining the respective presidential contenders, particularly on the Republican side. Though the Democratic delegate allocation formula (by state) is very complex, their voting process is simpler. Thirty-seven states will employ a proportional allocation structure based upon primary votes cast, while 18 more will meet in a caucus/state convention system. One state, Texas, will use a combined caucus and proportional primary program, and one final entity, Michigan, will assign all of its delegates to the winning primary candidate in a Winner-Take-All format.

Both parties include America’s affiliations and territories in their nominating system: American Samoa, Guam, District of Columbia, Northern Marianas, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The Democrats have a 57th entity, called Democrats Abroad. Each state or affiliated entity is assigned a number of delegates who will cast the deciding votes to officially nominate a presidential and vice presidential candidate. A winning candidate must secure support from a minimum 2,255 delegates.

The Republican process is much more complex, and with an expected large field of candidates (so far, 26 individuals have said they are considering running, 17 of whom can be considered to have serious potential of entering the race) splitting the delegate vote – exacerbated by the proportional allocation system – makes the prospect of going to a brokered convention more conceivable than at any time since Warren G. Harding was nominated in a fractured convention setting back in 1920.

For 2016, and for now understanding that the states could still change their nominating process, 18 states and entities will meet in Republican caucus/convention meetings, 10 will host proportional primaries, and six are pure Winner-Take-All states; five more states are Winner-Take-All by congressional district and statewide vote. In this system, three delegates would be awarded for each congressional district won while the remaining at-large delegates are claimed via the aggregate statewide vote. In an additional five states, this same latter process applies but the statewide allocation would revert to proportionality if no candidate wins an outright majority of the statewide vote. With a presumed large field of contenders, these final five states will likely all be in the proportional category.

Three places – West Virginia, Illinois, and Pennsylvania – are termed Delegate Selection States because their voters actually choose individual delegate candidates instead of voting for the presidential contenders themselves. Illinois and Pennsylvania are called “Loophole States” because they also host a primary along with the delegate selection vote. The primary vote for the presidential candidates themselves, usually referred to as a “beauty contest”, has no relevance in the delegate selection process, however.

The remaining nine states and entities employ combined variations of the systems described above. Therefore, any one Republican presidential candidate securing the necessary 1,205 delegate votes prior to arriving in Cleveland, through an aggregated process such as described above against several strong opponents, is a more challenging prospect than has been the case in past presidential elections.

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