Neil Walter: Why we need party conventions

The State of Utah and more particularly the Republican Party have been in the throws of a knock-down, drag-out fight over the nomination process for candidates. Count My Vote initiated a movement to replace party conventions with primaries. The movement spawned Senate Bill 54 which allowed candidates to choose between collecting signatures with the option to bypass the party conventions and still appear on the primary ballot or securing enough votes at the party convention as a requirement to appear on the primary ballot.

by Neil Walter
by Neil Walter

Count My Vote proponents want to increase voter participation, represent the voice of the people, and eliminate party control of the ballot. These are all positive outcomes that resonate with many in our State. Some have been confused or frustrated by the Republican Party’s challenge of SB54 and County My Vote. They see the party’s fight as evidence that it wants less voter participation, less representation of the people’s voice, and control of the ballot.

The real debate is not over the desired outcomes, but rather the process to achieve those outcomes. The Republican Party also wants more voter participation, to be representative, and for Republicans to choose their candidates with party officials acting as independent referees.

Process and rules are important. They can be boring. They may often seem irrelevant, but they are what creates a level playing field for the party’s number one responsibility–candidate nomination and election. Process and rules make the elections and governance inclusive for both urban and rural areas. For a clear illustration of the importance of process, look at the current Republican Presidential nomination. As of today, it appears Donald Trump will not secure a majority of the delegates at the Republican Convention in Cleveland. So why not just make him the nominee because he has the most support (but not a majority)?

Delegates to the Republican National Convention are not allocated simply by popular vote. To do so would render rural areas irrelevant. It was for this reason the Founders compromised in the establishment of Congress with two chambers inclusive of the Senate (equal representation regardless of population) and a House of Representatives (representation by population). Similarly, while we watch the popular vote for President in the general election, we count based on the Constitution’s process for electing a president embodied in the Electoral College. To simply count the popular votes would disenfranchise the small population states and marginalize the compromise represented in our Constitution.

George Will with the Washington Post explained the importance of the Convention in establishing a level playing field for presidential candidates and getting to a majority support as opposed to nominating a candidate without a majority.

In an editorial authored by seven prior National Chairmen of the Republican National Committee published April 21, 2016 in the Wall Street Journal, they made a parallel argument. (subscription required).

Imagine if the Speaker of the House suggested that it would pass a law that had more support than any other version of the law, but could not secure a majority vote on the House floor. We would be outraged–49% is not the same as 51%. Even 50.0% is not a majority whereas 50.1% is. Resolving pluralities (support from most, but not a majority) is a thorny problem in elections and legislative processes. We do not recognize pluralities as the will of the people. There is simply a stalemate until a majority can be reached. Resolving pluralities (without a majority) requires an effective process.

It is for this reason that the Republican National Convention all of a sudden becomes not only relevant, but necessary. Without the convention, we have a plurality with no way to get to a majority. For the same reasons, state and county conventions are also relevant and necessary. If there are problems with the process used in the conventions, we should change those processes, not circumvent the convention. The reason the Utah Republican Party has fought so aggressively against SB54 is to preserve the convention and its ability to break plurality stalemates and come to a majority behind a nominee.

I am confident that as a party and as Utahans, we will work through the disagreement over the elections process and come to a positive solution because we share the same desire to increase voter participation, have a representative process, and let voters decide who is on the ballot.

Originally posted at R. Neil Walter’s personal blog. Reposted with permission. 

Liked it? Take a second to support Utah.Politico.Hub on Patreon!

Related posts