Progress! GOP Replaces FUBAR With Confusion

by Steve Haner

Virginia Republicans are finally beginning their nomination process for statewide candidates, graduating from the FUBAR phase of this exercise to a state of mere confusion.

It is not a primary, nor is it a traditional “under one roof” convention, nor even the proposed “everyone in one parking lot” convention. The process most closely resembles a party canvass or firehouse primary, with the added requirement that to vote in the canvass you must pre-register as a delegate. 

The confusion arises because each of the party’s local city and county units will have some variation in their deadlines for filing the paperwork to be a delegate. And to be a delegate you are responsible for getting that signed application form to the appropriate party apparatchik by the appointed day and time. When and where? Much of that remains to be announced.

It is an application. The individual party units will have their own process for either approving everybody’s application or winnowing them out some way. It is on you to find out what is going on in your own locality, although the better organized statewide campaigns will be happy to help if you pledge your support. The details are supposed to appear here eventually. Or here.

Blink and you may miss your local deadline.

There is no limit on how many people can file in any given city or county, and there is no fee to file. Any registered voter in Virginia can participate. The state party-issued delegate application contains a declaration of intent to support the party nominees in November.

Come the big day, Saturday, May 8, there could be 37 or even more locations around the state where the delegates will need to go to their unit’s assigned location, check in and complete a ballot, designating their first and second choice for the three offices: governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.  The poll locations may not be known until April 24, but for most shouldn’t be too long a drive. It seems you will just vote and leave.

In a primary or true party canvass, each vote counts the same. Not so with this process. Each unit has a set number of delegate votes based on how many people voted Republican in the last presidential and gubernatorial elections. You can see the breakdown on the final two pages of this Call to Convention.

Fairfax County has 1,142 delegate votes and Highland County 7.  If the units sign up more people than it has delegate votes, each of their delegates who votes gets a fractional vote. If they send fewer, those people cast more than one vote. You will see both outcomes on May 8, with delegates from the most populous locations getting a fractional vote but some rural delegates with whole or even multiple votes.

Are you starting to see why some didn’t want a true primary? With a true primary, turnout in one region can overcome geographical balance. Guess which region.  The good news is thousands of people will get to participate, probably more than with a real convention but fewer than with a primary. But the crucial political weight Northern Virginia will carry on November 2 will be diluted on May 8.

The list of potential governors on the RPV website is up to ten names but may shrink a bit when a $14,000 cash filing fee is due from each campaign in ten days. Frankly, if seven of them passed me on the sidewalk I wouldn’t know them, and eight probably wouldn’t know me.

Former Speaker Kirk Cox and Chesterfield State Senator Amanda Chase have head starts from 2020 and are reaching out aggressively now to get people to sign delegate forms. Wealthy retired Northern Virginia tycoons Pete Snyder and Glenn Youngkin are latecomers, aggressively buying name ID in various advertising media and presumably building lists of their own.

Meaning no disrespect, the other six are non-starters at this point. In a convention, the also-rans can have an impact if things get complicated. I will be shocked if the four names above don’t share 95% of the first and second choice votes. But with only a first and second choice named, will the final nominee achieve a majority? Maybe not.

This is the key language from the Republican Party Plan:

“Ranked choice voting” shall mean a system of election in which each voter ranks candidates in order of preference (first, second, third, etc.) and ballots are tabulated sequentially identifying the candidate with the least support, eliminating that candidate, and transferring those votes to the next-ranked candidate on each ballot, until there are only as many candidates left as seats available.

So, lacking an outright majority, the person who gets the most first choice votes could lose when all the second choices are tallied on the ballots for the eliminated candidates. Soon enough the political ads will include a theme new to Virginia politics: “If not your first choice, make me your second choice.”

Voting in this process will be fairly easy compared to the counting that follows.  Staffing 30-plus count rooms with reliable observers with math skills will be the real test for the campaigns.

And remember which party we’re talking about here, the experts at the circular firing squad. Odds are the drama is just beginning.