There has been a great many postings and comments on the blogs recently regarding the upcoming RPV State Central Committee (SCC) vote on what method Virginia should use to elect delegates to the 2016 Presidential Convention. The methods being discussed have been either a state convention at some large venue or by having the Virginia Department of Elections conduct a primary for the Republican ballot only at a time picked by the SCC. The date for either will be influenced by the rules set forth by the Republican National Committee for when states can elect delegates.
Both election methods have engendered much discussion and passion. Sides for and against either method put forth reasonable arguments, especially to the advocates. Virginia has used both methods in this century and it is very debatable if the chosen election method had an influence on the eventual general election results. But rather than focus on the eventual election result, the SCC should focus on selecting a method that does the most to build the Party, not just for this election, but for elections to come.
My read on the discussions expressed so far show either method creating a great deal of divisiveness. It does not seem appropriate to say that all New Conservatives favor a convention whereas all Established Conservatives favor a primary. It may be more appropriate to say (though it is not being said) that supporters of certain candidates favor one method or the other as they feel would benefit their candidate. For instance, those likely to be able to raise large sums of money and currently better generally known would favor a primary whereas those candidates that are not as well-known generally but have a strong following of Party affiliated activists would prefer a convention.
Without knowing the likely outcome on June 27th, I think it’s fairly safe to predict that the losing side will proclaim that the SCC has doomed the Party to backwater status. So with such an outcome looming, why not investigate a third alternative for which less emotion is invested?
This other alternative is Party canvass, also known as a firehouse primary or caucus. In short, this process involves a Party run operation from top to bottom. Registered voters go to specified locations and cast votes and then leave, much like a primary. Unlike a primary, the Party picks the locations for voting, staffs the voting operation, is responsible for ballot security, counts the ballots and reports the results. And the Party pays for the whole thing, not the State(taxpayers). Like a primary and unlike a convention, every vote is weighed the same, “one man, one vote”.
This process has been implemented successfully in several unit wide and legislative district contests and therefore would work for a statewide effort as well. Because, the state Party is simply an assembly of units (counties and cities) and there would be no need to divide up by Congressional District as all votes are weighted the same. All units would have their canvass the same day and time. The cost could be borne either by each unit (it is each their nomination process) or supplemented by the state Party. As this will not be until the spring of 2016, the costs could be raised. Further the costs would not much different than what is already incurred to have a unit mass meeting/convention. In the existing mass meeting/convention, locations are secured that may cost money, voting lists are purchased (or supplied by RPV). Advertisements would likewise reflect a mass meeting requirements. Each unit would be responsible for staffing the polling places but they could call on auxiliary groups such as CR’s to assist. Unlike a mass meeting, it would be prudent in most units to have more than one polling location to facilitate a more robust participation by the voters. For instance, the larger units may have 4-6 (or more) locations. Smaller units could make due with a couple. The campaigns would largely handle getting the word out as to the polling locations as it would be in their interests to identify and encourage the voters to go vote.
Obviously a primary utilizes many more voting locations and the costs are courtesy of the taxpayers of Virginia. It has always been my view that the Republicans should feel an obligation and strong desire to be the steward of our own process. And also be the owner of all the voting data within our process, not subject to knowledge by Democrats or for that matter anyone. Despite the reduced number of polling locations from a primary, there would be many more in the aggregate than in a convention, as in fact the place to cast the final vote is the state convention itself. In the canvass, the final vote is at the local polling place like a primary. The time commitment for a voter to participate would only be a few minutes more than for a primary (transportation time) and far less time and effort for any voter to attend a central state convention.
Some will say that an important aspect of a convention is that there can be multiple ballots to eliminate the lower polling candidate and allow the National delegates that are elected to better represent a consensus of those participating in the convention. Like a primary, a canvass can have a run off date set a couple/few weeks later that would have a pre-prescribed date and time that each voter would know about. This process could then even allow new voters to participate in the second phase of the election that couldn’t participate in the first phase.
One argument that has been widely posted as a reason to use a primary is the matter of absentee ballots. Absentee ballots do not work in a convention method. However, they could be utilized in a canvass process. Each unit could have its own absentee ballot that would be available on-line. It would be printed and sent in much like a State process. Or it could be hand delivered by the voter (only like the State process) at a certain time and place before the official polling time (early voting). Likewise, RPV could have a generic absentee ballot with information about where to send it.
Ballots in a canvass would likely be paper as is mostly used in a convention. The staff would count them, decided on questionable ballots and report them into RPV who would aggregate the counts and report the statewide results.
It would not be expected that this discussion would by itself change the course of the SCC vote on the 27th. This process needs to be fully discussed and vetted. However, it should be seriously considered for the nominating election in both 2016 Presidential and 2017 Gubernatorial contests. Therefore, the strong suggestion is that the SCC defer this decision until a date in July and that in the SCC appoint a committee to review this process and report as to its suitability for use in either year. The decision is too important to leave to just the usual processes that immediately divide the Party. Better to try a process that all can work together to make successful. The only doubt I have is that this process will not be embraced by campaigns as they will not be able to predict which candidate would benefit more from this method.