By Craig Robinson
The boys over at Buzz Feed got my attention with a headline that reads, “Republicans Plot Assault On Iowa Caucuses.” The article focuses on a proposed RNC rule change that will be debated in Tampa on Friday. What the boys at Buzz Feed forgot to mention in their headline is that the rule change will effect more than the Iowa Caucuses and other caucus states if adopted. In fact, at least 36 states would be substantially affected by the proposed rule change
The rule change being proposed by Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett reads as follows.
Proposed Change to Rule 15(c)7
Any process authorized or implemented by a state Republican Party for selecting delegates and alternate delegates or for binding the presidential preference of such delegates shall use every means practicable to guarantee the right of active duty military personnel, and individuals unable to attend meetings due to injuries suffered in military service the opportunity to exercise their right to vote in that process.
A couple things to note:
1. The phrase, “shall use every means practicable” is not as forceful as a simple compulsory statement such as “must” or “shall.” This means this rule would be up to much interpretation. Who decides what is “practicable”? What if there isn’t a “practicable” way to accomplish this? This rule could be interpreted to have no teeth whatsoever, in which case, it is simply a political ploy to make caucus states look bad by voting against something that is perceived to be pro-military.
2. The proposed rule change has nothing to do with directly voting for a presidential candidate. It only deals with military personnel being able to vote in delegate selection. That means a caucus state like Iowa doesn’t have to make absentee ballots available in its presidential preference poll, only in the selection of delegates, which happens in most states after the primary or caucus.
Only six states and territories would be totally unaffected by the rule change. Ten other states would have to make slight changes in how they select alternate delegates. Thirty-six states would have to make major changes in how they elect delegates and alternate delegates. Since the only way to comply with the new rule would be to put slates of delegates on a primary ballot, this also means it would cost states a substantial amount of money. In essence, it would be an unfunded mandate from the Republican National Committee.
The Buzz Feed article makes it seem like Iowa is the main target of the rule change, but primary states like Texas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Oregon, and Washington would be impacted as much as Iowa. If this is an “assault” on Iowa and other caucus states, it sure creates a lot of other casualties.
States that would not be largely impacted by the rule change include:
District of Columbia*
*State committee selects a portion or all the alternate delegates, which would not be allowed under the proposed rule change.
The following states would have to make wholesale changes in how they select delegates and alternate delegates:
Allowing active duty military personnel to participate in the presidential nominating process is a noble and worthwhile goal. The problem is that this proposal doesn’t ensure that they can vote for their candidate of choice. Instead, it focuses on allowing them to vote for delegates.
There are other ways to make sure that active duty military personnel can participate in the process. In regards to delegate selection, states can and should take steps to ensure that the caucus or primary results are reflected in their delegate selection process.
There is simply no way to allow an absent individual the opportunity to vote on delegates in states that use a convention process. Moving to an Ohio system where people must run campaigns to become delegates does nothing to make the system more accessible, accountable, and open. Instead it would increase the cost of being a delegate to a point where only someone of means or high name ID could participate.
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