How people elect parliaments
In American military slang, a disorderly situation goes through three stages of disorder: first snafu – which represents a level of disorder which is ‘situation normal’ – then passing through tarfu – in which ‘things are really’ disorderly – before finally reaching fubar – in which the level of disorder is ‘beyond all recovery’.
On this nomenclature, the race for the Republican presidential nomination for 2016 commenced in a snafu condition, conducted on rules which are already based on malapportionment, non-proportional voting methods and other causes of different degrees of influence for voters across the nation – let alone the influence of money and media manipulation.
The whole process has clearly now reached tarfu status.
They are at this point not merely because the lead candidate (Donald Trump) is actively opposed by a majority of the relevant voters. This is a common problem in electoral systems, and various voting methods such as preferential voting or the Condorcet rule can be used to address such a situation.
But what is actually emerging in recent days is the collapse of the integrity of the system itself.
(The 2012 Republican convention. Image: CNN)
Most observers who follow US presidential nominations are used to following the delegate counts of the candidates. All major media websites and many specialists blogs track these counts. The Republican party has recently launched its own website explaining its convention rules and giving an ‘official’ estimate of the running delegate count.
But in just the past week, reports have emerged from at least four states of ‘delegate theft’. The little-known reality is that the individual delegates are actually only identified – according to a baffling array of different state party rules – some weeks after the primary elections on which they are based.
Often the delegates are appointed at ‘state party conventions’ from select lists of long-term party members. Sometimes the matter is even left simply to state officials. Both these methods will disadvantage the new and insurgent Trump campaign. In other cases the campaigns themselves may determine the individual delegates, which may favour Trump better.
But under the intense pressure of the most contested and bitter Republican race ever, the rules appear to be breaking down.
In Louisiana, won by Donald Trump with 41% of the vote on March 5, the Cruz campaign (which came second with 38%) is accused of using internal influence with party officials to secure the appointment of delegates in defiance of the numerical results of the primary election.
A similar theft exercise of Trump delegate slots by the Cruz campaign is being reported in Tennessee, which was won on March 1 by Donald Trump with a decisive 39% of the vote over Cruz’s 25%.
In North Dakota, which used a caucus event on March 1 to select delegates to a state convention (held on April 3) which in turn chooses the national convention delegates, the internal machinations are proving to be the real decision-maker, rather than the votes cast at the caucus for state convention participants. The result is expected to again see Cruz steal delegates which may belong to Trump. Since there was no definitive public vote, the true democratic outcome is impossible to tell.
In reality the delegates from North Dakota (and also those from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, who are to be selected in a few weeks time) will arrive at the Cleveland party convention in early July unbound to any of the presidential candidates.
And in South Carolina, there are accusations of John Kasich’s campaign (which scored just 8% in the February 20 election) contriving to steal Trump (who won 33% of the vote) and Cruz (22%) delegates.
It’s clear that all these efforts are part of the existential battle to stop Donald Trump winning the nomination.
The passion being put into these machinations will no doubt seem justified by the stakes at risk. But the outcome will surely be the destruction of the credibility of the whole primary nomination process. The public are invited to vote in primary elections, or attend caucuses, on the assumption that their votes decide the outcome.
The Republican party does have a process for resolving disputes of this kind. It’s called the Rules Committee, and it meets at the beginning of the convention in July.
The 112-member Rules Committee itself is being selected quasi-democratically in the weeks ahead, in parallel to the convention delegates. Most reports indicate that the Cruz campaign, and the generally anti-Trump party establishment, are also proving more artful in the scramble to take control of this body.
Trump is widely expected to fall either just above or just below the majority target of 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination. If by the last primary elections on June 7 he appears to be just above this level, the remaining 6 weeks before the convention will be spent with the nation gripped by an incomprehensible battle over the level of delegate theft that might deny him the nomination.
All of which will create a convention – which was at best semi-democratic to start with – marked by extraordinary bitterness and disorder.
It will be a welcome thing that the security services have already ruled that delegates cannot enter the convention premises armed.
Overall, it’s fair to say the process has already reached condition tarfu, and it’s highly doubtful that condition fubar can now be avoided.