Huston: A Rigged GOP Delegate System

April 11, 2016

by Tom Charles Huston

Teddy White, reporting on the 1968 Democratic primary, noted that Indiana’s political party organizations belonged “in a Yellowstone National Park of primeval political fauna.”

Over the past 48 years, Hoosier Democrats have made concessions to modernity, but the Indiana Republican party has chosen to move in the opposite direction. Its method of selecting delegates to the GOP national convention is an embarrassment which should be embalmed and buried in the shadows of Stonehenge, a monument that reflects the mentality of the rock heads who foisted off on the Republican voters of Indiana a fraudulent system of representation.

Indiana is entitled to 57 delegates to the 2016 Republican national convention in Cleveland. The state chairman, the national committeeman, and the national committeewoman are delegates by virtue of their positions in the state party apparatus. Three delegates are elected by each of the nine congressional district party committees, and the remaining 27 are elected by the State Central Committee. All of this occurs prior to the primary election in which Republican voters express their preference for the Republican presidential nomination. Not one of these designated delegates is appointed or elected by any person or group of persons for whom Republican voters have cast ballots.

This system did not exist when Teddy White was complaining about retrograde political institutions in the Hoosier State. In that Dark Age Indiana’s delegates to the Republican national convention were elected at the state party convention in June by delegates who had been elected by Republican voters in the primary election the previous month. Delegates awarded by congressional district were elected at district caucuses held the night before the convention opened. The at-large delegates were elected by majority vote as part of the business of the convention. The process was open, transparent, and afforded partisans of the presidential contenders the opportunity to field a slate of committed delegates who would stick by their candidate beyond the first ballot. It was a true representative system that was ultimately grounded in the direct votes of grassroots Republicans.

The present system is designed to exclude from consideration delegates favorable to candidates not approved by the party bosses (as several district chairmen unabashedly conceded in the recent Politico report). It enables the selection of persons who are unaccountable to actual voters and favors the political class at the expense of the grassroots (three of the designated delegates from Marion County are full-time lobbyists). This year it has skewed the ideological orientation of the delegation toward the most liberal and least representative elements of the party. In its structure, its timing and its operation, the present system is anti-democratic.

Our electoral system has changed dramatically since 1960. In that year only a handful of states held primary elections, the most memorable and decisive of which were on the Democratic side in Wisconsin and West Virginia. In 1976, the primary calendar had expanded substantially and on the Republican side it was North Carolina that proved decisive to setting up a real contest for the presidential nomination. In recent elections, almost all states hold either primary elections or caucuses for the purpose of affording voters a direct say in the nominating process.

In this age only a party apparatus as arrogant and corrupt as the Indiana GOP could argue with a straight face that party members ought to be disenfranchised and denied any say in the results of a multi-ballot convention. In a contested convention that goes beyond the first ballot, the system currently in place in Indiana sets up the potential for a candidate who did not win the primary election and, indeed, may not have been a candidate in the primary election, to steal votes from the favorite of the primary electorate, and the instruments for this steal are persons who have not won a single vote from any Republican electorate other than the professional political class.

Under these circumstances, the Indiana delegation to the convention in Cleveland will lack legitimacy. Having been appointed pursuant to a rigged, anti-democratic system, the credentials of the delegates should be challenged. By any measure of fairness, such a delegation should not be seated in a Republican convention.

Tom Charles Huston, J.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and history buff residing in Indianapolis, is a former associate counsel to the president of the United States.


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