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Political Conventions and Citizen Activism — How It’s Done (Because I’ve Done It!)

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Beginning soon at a local precinct near you, delegates will be selected who will eventually ascend to represent their State at the national RNC convention.

How do I know this? Two ways — I just yesterday received an email describing the process for my particular area in Georgia, where the delegate selection process begins this weekend, and the fact that I’ve been a delegate up to the State convention level in Georgia back in the 1990s.

Today, NBC News posted a great article (relatively dispassionate) regarding the upcoming GOP convention and how some party insiders have been speaking about the words, “contested” and “brokered” as bandied about in the press recently.

Before deep-diving into what this is all about, let’s get something out of the way first. Remember this “controversial” point made by a party insider, that the party picks the nominee, not voters? Aside from the relative hysteria that could be whipped up absent proper context, allow me to explain this point.

When you go to the polls (or participate in a caucus), you are actually voting for delegates to represent your vote. In reality, what the major political parties do is nearly identical to the concept of the Electoral College. You as a voter are not directly voting for any given candidate; you’re merely voting for how your State’s allotment of delegates will represent your State with respect to a given candidate (typically allotted per party rules; I’m not sure how States, per se, play into this, but that’s irrelevant for this discussion).

In other words, your vote as a primary or caucus voter expands the pool of delegates available for your chosen candidate.

Once everything is tallied for your State, there are then deadlines for the next most important part of political activism — party participation. And the best way to participate as an activist is to get involved through the precinct/county, district, State convention and, if you’re really into it (and get enough support), the national convention level.

Being a delegate is a painfully simple process. All that’s required to begin is for you to show up on time with some identification as well as your voter registration card. Seriously, that’s it. While it helps to understand party rules, typically the only time that becomes an issue is if someone at some point in the process tries to fight you on the rules (and that doesn’t typically happen unless you’re potentially threatening someone else’s ability to be nominated for the next process step).

As far as the actual steps, this depends on your particular State (go to this page on and scroll down to pick your State to see actual meeting dates/times). However, to use my own 2016 steps as an example, things would go like the following bulleted list. Be aware that you’d need to know times and locations for each meeting, else you could disqualify yourself simply by not showing up on time:

  • If you live in a small county, you’d first have a “precinct mass meeting” (which really isn’t as big as it sounds because of the lack of population), which you’d have to nominate yourself or ask to be nominated to go to the county convention. Then, you’d have to be nominated (by self or someone) to be a delegate or alternate delegate to go to the district convention. After that, you might be able to go to the State convention, and then there’s the national convention in Cleveland, OH for the GOP
  • If you live in a large county, you’ll probably first have a county convention, then potentially proceed to the district convention, which can then lead to the State convention, and then to the national convention

As you can see, the process is relatively straightforward to become involved in the party process. For me, when I was involved years ago, there wasn’t nearly as much interest in this process, so I had almost no competition for being a delegate all the way to the State convention. Of course, this year is significantly different, so if you became involved, you might have more competition at a lower level in the process to be able to proceed.

This is why it’s just as important to be nominated as an alternate delegate as it is to be a full-fledged delegate. As the name implies, being an alternate delegate means that you could be called up to serve at the next level in the event that the nominated delegate is unable to attend. Also be aware that the higher up you go, the more that you’ll run into long-time party politicos who’ve built up more friendships within the apparatus, and this can make it more difficult for a relative newbie to be able to proceed. Therefore, to go to the national convention beyond the State convention, be aware that, at that level, you’ll be dealing with delegates from precincts all over your State who are similarly vying for the same chance.

This is important. After all, you want folks in your own party who are just as willing to hold the line with similar party plank thoughts as you are; this is the point of activism, after all.

Now that you know how the process works, perhaps the concept that “the party picks the nominee, not the people,” is better understood and is technically true. Let’s say that you’ve been active for long enough in your State’s party apparatus that you now have a chance at being an alt delegate or even a delegate to the national convention. This is obviously something you’ve spent a lot of time doing and that you’re not taking lightly. You, as a delegate, are the one who helps determine (along with all other delegates aggregated nationally) who the party’s nominee will be. While you’re technically a voter, you’re actually a part of the party, and you’re taking your State’s allotment of votes and are now representing your State at the convention.

With all of the above said, what does this have to do with “first ballot,” “second ballot” and the rest of the voting process for (in this case) the RNC? As a delegate, depending on your State’s or State party rules, you would be bound to vote the way that you’ve been initially allotted on the initial ballot (by the way, as a delegate, you would then be directly voting for an individual to be a nominee). If after all delegate votes are summed and the 50%+1 number is not reached, depending on rules, you’d then move to a second round. At that point, you as a delegate would not be required to vote per your State’s allotment, and that’s where the “contested” convention comes into play. As a delegate, you would then take the responsibility to vote as whatever the rules state.

Politically, as the NBC News article pointed out, the idea that a delegate would vote for someone other than whomever had gone through the primary process would be more than counter-intuitive. Outside of the convention, it would be seen as going against the will of the People. Also remember that delegates to the national convention have a much greater likelihood of showing up on the news, where reporters — much less candidates — would be asking you why you voted the way you did, especially if you were part of a “floor fight” to vote for someone other than those who ran in the primaries. I think you can see where that would go.

If no primary candidate reached the “magic” 50%+1 number of delegates on the first ballot, then what is more than likely to happen is that the delegates — those to whom the party bestowed the power to make the selection (and who one day could be you) — would end up voting for any number of candidates who “suspended” their campaigns. In fact, part of the point of a candidate “suspending” their campaign is so that they can keep a hold of any delegate allotment they current possess (again, depending on party rules) and so that they can arrive at the convention with the capability of being a player.

Now that you know a bit more about the political process and how any voter can get involved, you can see that, at the end of the day, political parties are loathe to go against how States have voted, and that those delegates are really the ones who directly vote for a nominee. And if those delegates go completely off the proverbial range (such as voting for someone who was not part of the primary process), they open themselves up to both political and court of public opinion scrutiny for why they did what they did.

Nevertheless, if for whatever reason the delegates could not vote on a 50%+1 candidate during the balloting process, the unlikely event of a “brokered convention” could try to come into play — whereby long-time party supporters could try to throw someone outside of the primary process into the mix. However, I’m not sure how that would work, as the delegates would still have to vote on such an individual. I don’t think that would go over very well!

Of course, what happens if, say, Mr. Trump gains the requisite number of delegates going into the convention? I would suggest that the #NeverTrump folks out there are going to have to do some serious soul-searching, and if the party folks actually thought about radically changing rules at the convention, realize that the delegates have a number of proverbial cards to play on their own — so this isn’t necessarily a GOPe-based situation where nothing can be done about the Establishment.

The bottom line: it’s all about the delegates 🙂


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