Understanding Convention Voting

I’ve talked about the possibility of a split GOP convention in 2008 a few times, a situation that I believe is very possible, even likely, since the GOP has three big-name candidates in this race, all with the ability to draw significant support. However, a recent commenter on my site pointed out that, since split conventions are rare occurrences, many people are unfamiliar with the procedures that would be involved if multiple rounds of convention voting were required to select a nominee. I admit that it is a confusing process, but I’ll do my best to simplify it:


In our primary system, the nominee for each party is decided by the number of delegates they win. The procedure and delegate allotment is set by the party, so I’m not entirely familiar with the rules followed by the DNC, but for the Republicans, a majority of delegates is required to secure the nomination (meaning more than half).  Of the 3,101 up for grabs, 2,439 are assigned according to who wins the primary or caucus in each state. The other 662 delegates are unpledged, meaning they get to pick who to support. Add those numbers together and you get 1,551 delegates required to win.


Convention voting is relatively easy to understand. For the first round of voting (called a “ballot”), the pledged delegates are required to support the winner of their state’s primary. The unpledged delegates are allowed to choose who to support. If no candidate can win the required majority on the first ballot, then all of the 3,101 delegates become unpledged, and that is when states start to change hands.

There is also one outside possibility that should be mentioned. If the race becomes so close that multiple rounds of voting fail to produce a nominee, there is a small chance that a new candidate could make a move to capture the nomination. While unlikely, it has happened in the past and deserves a mention.


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