As Elections Draw Near, the Need for a Review of the Process is Questioned


Julian Moore,
Staff Writer

Republican candidates for president will compete in two more states this coming week. Primaries in Michigan and Arizona will pit an increasingly popular Rick Santorum against establishment favorite Mitt Romney. In addition to the candidates’ opposing agendas, exactly how the delegates are decided has become increasingly important during the 2012 election because of such a varied showing of support for the main candidates. In the history of the United States, election law has been colored by Byzantine rules and procedures rarely explicated in detail. Even the candidates themselves struggle with the rules, namely when Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich found out that their names would not even be printed on ballots in Indiana and Virginia, respectively.

At the beginning of the primary elections, election experts and pundits offered the nearly unanimous opinion that Romney would win the Republican nomination with ease. Romney, they held, had been gathering funds since his last run for the presidency in 2008 and would use them in competitive states to spread advertisement campaigns by phone, radio and television.

Indeed, the Republican nomination process of today largely favors the candidates with the most access to wide-scale communication. Two types of contests (caucuses and primaries) give the winning candidates “delegates,” or votes from each state, which are tallied at the Republican National Convention to decide the nominee. Caucuses are elections in which voters are assembled in a room (typically public gathering halls) by staff from competing candidates and cast votes in public by raising their hands.

Voters are allowed to discuss and debate issues with the representatives of each candidate, and the process is generally considered to favor grassroots campaigns focused on meeting constituents in person. The style of voting was once the most common format for elections in the United States while today only eleven states continue to use the system.

This system, however, can often be unreliable. In a recent article for The Daily Beast, reporter John Avlon wrote that the system is “fundamentally unrepresentative, and leads to low turnout” citing the 6,000 voters that showed up in Maine, hardly two percent of registered Republicans there. After votes were cast in Maine’s caucuses, Mitt Romney was declared the winner, despite that only 84 percent of the precincts where voting took place reported their results.

A snowstorm in Washington County had caused a delay in reporting that allowed the state’s Republican party to call the results while dozens were still missing, with Romney winning by a scarce margin over Ron Paul.

The other more common way delegates are decided is through primaries. These resemble most national elections, with voting stations dotted across each state tallying private votes, while no solicitation or political advertising is allowed. The system likewise puts candidates under pressure to be in as many as 10 states at once, such as on Super Tuesday, and, particularly in this election, has spurred far-reaching advertising campaigns.

Despite the efforts, political parties make to even the scales nationwide, no two states in the nomination process are created equal. Some states, such as Iowa, have a perceived value as an indicator for what type of candidate “independent,” or voters not committed to a political party, are attracted to. Some states have “open” primaries, where any registered voter can participate, leading to results that are occasionally skewed in favor of outsider candidates, sometimes due to sabotage.

Perhaps most important are the shrinking number of “winner take all” states unique to the Republican nomination system. In most states, delegates are awarded based on what portion of the vote each candidate received, while states such as Florida operate on a “winner-takes-all” basis. This means that despite carrying only 50 delegates, a sizeable but not decisive number, Florida and states like it can make or break a candidate’s campaign early by stacking delegates to another candidate.

In this year’s election, the winning candidate will need 1,144 delegates to seal the Republican nomination and contest President Obama in the general election. While Romney leads the pack by nearly 50 delegates, his campaign has run into more resistance from Rick Santorum than expected. In Romney’s home state of Michigan, where his father served as governor in the 1960s, Mitt Romney was slammed by CNN columnist LZ Granderson early last week over an article Romney published in 2008 entitled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt;” Granderson portrayed Romney as a traitor to the working class base in Michigan. Later that day, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine made the rare political move of rescinding his support of Romney in favor of former Viriginia Senator Rick Santorum, saying, among other things, “to be elected president, you have to do more than tear down your opponents.”