How people elect parliaments
Among the many losers from the 2016 US presidential nomination process will be the Rules of the Republican Party.
The party’s voter base is deeply divided, and any decision-making system would be strained by such a situation. But poor voting rules can make it harder than it needs to be to reach a legitimate outcome.
So far, among Republican voters, the leading candidate Donald Trump has won 37% of the votes. Next comes the conservative/religious candidate Ted Cruz with 27%. Two candidates Marco Rubio (16%) and John Kasich (13%) have shared the bulk of the voter support for more experienced politicians with governing or congressional experience.
Yet Donald Trump is close to running away with the nomination. So far he has won 48% of the delegates with just 37% of the vote. He may fall short of the slight improvement he needs from the remainder of the contest – although a series of winner-take-all state ballots will assist him – or he may get across the line and go to the convention with a narrow majority of the delegates.
In any case, the option of a political party to reconsider a contest ‘leader’ who achieves only 37% support, and – if they wish to – adopt an ‘anyone else’ approach, is clearly imperiled by the poor construction of the current election rules.
Winning 37% isn’t a victory. Any quality voting system should be able to guard against selecting a winner who for whatever reason is specifically disapproved by a majority of the voters.
Sometimes this requires compromise between different movements within an electorate (in this case, the Republican voter base). Reasonable voting systems should include processes that allow for such compromises to develop.
Worse still, the loose and complicated local process of selecting the individual delegates to the Republican convention may come under severe strain. That there is open discussion about delegate disloyalty to their voters intent – not to mention the system’s vulnerability to bribery and corruption – is a major indictment on the party’s system as a democratic exercise.
Across the fence the Democratic Party’s proportional delegate system is presenting a much less controversial result. To be fair, the Democratic process is only dealing with a simple two-candidate contest. But the other party’s rules appear to be much better drafted than the Republican system.
The Democrats do – controversially – reserve 15% of their convention delegates for party officials and politicians, but this is a reasonable design choice. A case can be made that incorporating the views of the party’s professional leaders into the nomination process is a legitimate option.
Both parties also use malapportionment in their processes of allocating delegate numbers among the states.
Overall, 2016 is likely to provide important historic lessons about how to run a nominee selection process in a democratic way, and how not to.
See also a more detailed post at review of the US presidential primary rules
(Leading image: Washington Post)