I have been an advocate for conventions as the preferred type of nomination contest for over a decade now. Nomination conventions attract a lot of people to involvement in the party. There is real value in a nomination contest that levels the playing field between the candidates in ways primaries do not afford. Also, with conventions we ensure that nominees become nominees with a majority of the party behind them. The spoiler effect that we suffer in primaries is bad for the party and conventions eliminate it. So there are lots of structural reasons to prefer a convention.
I would like to propose a way for us to make Republican Conventions in Virginia a bit better. The worst part of how we have been doing conventions is how long the vote tabulation takes. It always seems that it should be able to be done faster. This is especially important for multi-round conventions. I’m sure many people remember the 12 hours it took to go through four rounds of voting in 2013. Surely we could get through multi-round voting a lot quicker in convention. So today I am going to propose two ways to speed that up for in-person conventions.
The first method is standing count vote.
My only experience with this in convention was the state convention in 2016. I’m sure a whole bunch of people who were there remember this, but for those of you who weren’t here’s what happened. There was the race for National Committee Woman between Susanne Obenshain and Cynthia Dunbar. There was also a third candidate who nobody knew about until the day of the convention. That third candidate received just enough votes to cause both Obenshain and Dunbar to each be just shy of 50%. No ballots had been prepared for a second round of voting, so the unit chairs were instructed to do a standing count vote of their unit. As it happened, my chairman was unable to be there and had asked me to lead the unit so I was was the one to do the counting. I picked one person that supported Obenshain and one that supported Dunbar. I had people stand up for Obenshain and counted them. The campaign representatives came to the same number I did. Then I had everyone sit down and have people stand for Dunbar. I again made sure that the campaign representatives came to the same number that I did and that everyone in my unit had the same count. After all the unit chairs had counted their delegations, they were instructed to come up to one of two microphones on either side of the stage. When the unit chairs got up to the microphone they announced to the whole convention the numbers from their delegation.
This was amazing. As chairmen would read out the results from their units, the delegates from one side or the other would cheer when particular good results for their side came out of any particular delegation. Instead of being bored to tears with speeches being made just to fill the time, wondering what was taking the counting so long, the delegates could see the vote tabulation happening right in front of them. Nobody could doubt the numbers because each unit knew how their delegation had already voted, so it wasn’t like a unit leader could call out different numbers at the microphone. The convention staff and the campaigns could all update their own spreadsheets at the same time. Not only all that, but the voting went quicker than the first round of voting. It was A) utterly transparent, B) fun and entertaining for the convention, and C) a lot quicker than the usual secret count method.
If we had been using that method for each round of the 2013 convention than instead of each round of voting taking a minimum of two hours, we could have had each round of voting wrapped up in an hour.
This would mean that there is no secret balloting, but most people know how most everybody else votes in convention anyway, so what is the real point of it?
The second is Instant Runoff Voting.
The method of voting that I would suggest it the one we used in this year’s convention: Instant Runoff Voting (also called rank choice voting), with a hand count. For anyone still not familiar with Instant Runoff Voting, please watch this video:
What I propose is that we get to the convention, all the speeches are given, people vote once, and then we can all go home except for the people left counting on into the night.
I’m remembering the 2013 convention and all of the shenanigans that happened on the floor between ballots. Susan Stimpson was falsely reported as not doing as well on a particular round as she had, flyers were passed out saying one candidate had endorsed another candidate when they hadn’t, one candidate holding another candidates hand walking around the convention floor to counter the false flyer because candidates weren’t allowed a microphone in between rounds, and other things beside. It was a bit of a mess.
And I kinda feel bad for delegates for whom that was their first convention. This is something that I really can’t stress enough. Every convention is someone’s first convention. The unit chairs and party officials running a convention, regardless of what side of whatever party divide you are on, have a responsibility to run party processes both above board and very well. First time delegates do not know what to expect and can be easily convinced that something is crooked, even when it wasn’t. So the process needs to be clean both on the surface and under the hood, because we want those first time delegates to stay involved in the party.
By proceeding with Instant Runoff Voting for in-person conventions, then there is no opportunity for shenanigans between rounds. I think there is great value to that.
I am a proponent of keeping the hand counting instead of doing it via scantron. It might take longer than a scantron, but I think there is a value to the transparency, having human eyes from multiple campaigns on every vote as it is counted.
I think either of these methods is superior and would make for better conventions than the usual secret ballot voting. The benefits of using either of these methods is that they would make conventions both go quicker and be more fun, especially for the first time convention goer. The primary way that conventions look like they aren’t well run is how long it takes for the voting to be tabulated and these two methods sort that out right well.
I think the number of candidates in each race would be the deciding factor between these two processes for a convention. I’d say that in conventions with few candidates in each race, say no more than 4, that Standing Count Vote would be better, because of the fun of seeing the vote unfold right in front of the delegates eyes. For conventions with a lot more candidates in each race, I’d say that Instant Runoff Voting would be better, because I think Standing Count Vote would start to get old after the third ballot.
Between these two methods though, I would prefer Instant Runoff Voting. The process of the recent convention was amazing. However much I did not like the field of candidates, the process was fair. No candidate can say they didn’t have a fair shot. No one is saying, “if that candidate weren’t in the race things would have been different” because we can see exactly how the race would be in each round without the candidates who were dropped. Also, being able to see the results come in live from the comfort of my own home was nice.
Additionally, Instant Runoff Voting may help us with that state law that goes into effect in 2024 that requires conventions to be accessible to absentee voting by delegates. Assuming that the law stands, we in the party are going to have to navigate it. With regular absentee voting the absentee delegate would only be able to vote on the first round. With an Instant Runoff Voting, they’d be able to vote on every round. Should we get to 2024 and have to contend with that law, then Instant Runoff Voting would be one of the parts that would allow us to comport with the law and continue to have conventions.
All of the forgoing, I think, is more than enough to favor Instant Runoff Voting, but there is yet one more benefit of Instant Runoff Voting that I think bears discussion. Using Instant Runoff Voting for in-person conventions would be good for the health of the party by creating less opportunity for grievances to develop. As a former unit chair, I can say that one of the responsibilities of party leadership is to run party affairs in such a manner as to decrease the likelihood of grievances. This is politics, there will always be grievances, but a well maintained party strives to keep those to a minimum. This is especially important for our nomination contests. Remember, the Republican Party is an all volunteer effort. Every person who is involved in the Republican Party has to be a very passionate person about politics, otherwise they would not be there. People are never more passionate than when a nomination contest is coming to a close. And grievances once established, can cause activists to lock horns and waste a lot of energy that could otherwise go towards electing Republicans. So the opportunity cost of nomination contests that generate grievances is a lot higher than just that one election.
There are probably people who would like to chime in at this point to say “well then why not primaries?” There are problems with primaries. One problem with primaries is there being an uneven playing field where candidates buy elections. This can result in huge swaths of the party feeling like they never have a fair shot at having a person from their part of the coalition be the nominee. There is also the spoiler effect which results in candidates winning with less than 50% of the vote. That too is really bad for the party, because it means the majority of the party didn’t vote for the guy. Remember, the Republican Party is a coalition party. Every part of the party needs to get something, otherwise they don’t have a reason to be part of the party. Unlike conventions where there might be several thousand people disaffected, primaries can disaffect hundred of thousands of Republican base voters. That’s a lot worse. Primaries, in my opinion, are far more unhealthy for the party than conventions as we currently do them.
Anyway, it is very easy for people to let their passion get the better of them and to do stupid things like distribute a fake flyer saying one candidate had endorsed another candidate in between rounds. Or in the case of the 2018 convention in the 6th District, before the voting started Chaz Haywood bowed out and endorsed Ben Cline. What happened there? I have heard several different stories about how this came about, but regardless of which story is true, here are some things that did happen. Those passionate delegates who took their day to come vote for Chaz had their passion denied. They were cheated out of the opportunity to vote for him. And Dunbar supporters cried fowl, “the fix is in”!” I don’t think either of those things were good for the party.
What exactly happened to motivate Chaz to drop out and endorse Cline before the first ballot, most delegates won’t know, but a lot of delegates walked away thinking the election wasn’t as clean as it could have been. With Instant Runoff Voting, neither of those things would have happened. Basically, there are a lot of ways people make last minute plays that make a bunch of voters feel like a thumb was on the scales and because everybody’s passions are riding really high, it is a good environment for grievances to be made.
Instant Runoff Voting would prevent a whole lot of that.
In contrast to instant Runoff Voting, Standing Count Vote still leaves opportunities for last minute plays that can lead to grievances, but Standing Count Vote would still be faster than how we do in-person conventions today.
To summarize, standing count vote would be faster, utterly transparent, and a lot more entertaining. Instant Runoff Voting would be even faster and would deny passionate people from making last minute plays that lead to grievances. Both would be better methods of voting than how we do in-person conventions today.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on how to improve in-person conventions. I would be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on how we can improve how we run our conventions.