North Dakota could become a big player in deciding the Republican presidential nomination, but if the state’s GOP delegates want public input on whom to give their votes, now is the time to do that.
The Republican Party finds itself in a situation it hasn’t seen in almost 70 years. A GOP presidential candidate has to win 1,237 delegates to tie up the nomination through caucuses and primaries, which is usually accomplished before the National Republican Convention.
But Donald Trump, with an estimated 746 delegates, has a long way to go to reach the magical number, and with Ted Cruz and John Kasich picking off states, a brokered convention is slowly becoming reality. The binding rules of the caucuses could become irrelevant, and North Dakota, which has unbound delegates, is, as former New Hampshire Sen. Gordon Humphrey put it, “like a pot of gold in this strange year.”
There are 2,472 up for grabs. A brokered or contested convention means a candidate has not gained 1,237 delegates, or a majority, prior to the convention. The last time A Republican did not gain the majority of delegates prior to the national convention was in 1948 when Thomas E. Dewey won the nomination.
Fun fact: it was the first presidential convention shown on national television.
In theory, Trump or Cruz could win the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination. But at 525 delegates, Cruz would have to win almost all of the remaining delegates in the country. Trump, who lost Wisconsin to Cruz in a landslide vote, has to win about 60 percent of the remaining delegates.
To ice the cake, Kasich has 145.
Translation: An already historic election year just got a pretty major plot twist.
So what would happened in this scenario? Each state has its own rules, but if the nomination is contested, bound delegates can become unbound after a certain number of votes, meaning all bets are off and the delegates are free to choose whoever they want. A candidate who won a state could lose delegates to another candidate.
But North Dakota’s delegates don’t have to cast their vote in the name of public opinion. Because of rule changes that North Dakota’s GOP couldn’t adopt, there was no caucus. That means the 28 delegates that will make their way to Cleveland in July don’t have to cast a predetermined vote for Trump, Kasich or Cruz.
Normally, North Dakota would be insignificant for a presidential election, but since its delegates are unbound, we won’t know for sure who will get the votes until after the convention ballots are counted.
And with a contested convention becoming a strong possibility, the future of the Republican party could rest in the hands, or pens, of 28 people from a state most of the country thinks is located in Canada.
Here’s the kicker. The North Dakota delegates have no guidance on who to vote for. This may not sit very well with some residents, who may want a voice on who the Republican candidate is.
There is the argument that public opinion doesn’t matter, that the Republican Party is a private entity that only has to answer its members, which in North Dakota is practically anyone that pays dues toward the party. But let’s pretend the party wants public input.
One could argue a straw poll U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer held should solve that. The problem is such a small amount of people responded to that survey, if you can call it that. Only 4,740 people — you can’t call them Republican because anyone could participate in the open online straw poll — voted. It’s possible duplicates got in there, though Cramer, North Dakota’s lone representative, said they tried to eliminate that. Even so, that’s barely two-thirds of a percent of the people that actually live in the state. It doesn’t even make up a percent of the 545,020 North Dakotans who were of voting age in 2014.
And before you say it’s supposed to be a sample, it’s not a good sample. Even if the sample was big enough, the methodology was poor. The poll excluded anyone who didn’t have access to the internet — not every voter can, nor do they want to, run to the library to tell a congressman who he should endorse, and North Dakotans aren’t exactly known. It appears the poll did not plan out a course to obtain a random sample which is representative of voters, other than hoping someone from each county would reply.
The poll also featured 11 candidates, but now we have three, which makes it more viable to choose a candidate.
So North Dakota Republicans have chosen 28 delegates that have no instruction from the public on how to vote. But there is a solution.
The GOP could poll North Dakota Republicans in a scientific study to see who they want to win the nomination. It could serve as a better guide for the delegates. Since the convention is just three months away, it would give the state GOP time to hire an independent company to do the study. And since we are so close to the national convention and the field has narrowed, voters will have a better feel for who they believe should lead the Republican Party.
A poll would at least give the delegates a chance to take into account what GOP voters want. It wouldn’t be a sanctioned caucus but rather a feel for what Republicans want. Since it wouldn’t be a binding poll, it shouldn’t be against the rules. It might just work.
Obviously, the unbound delegates are going to vote for who they feel will be the best choice to defeat the Democratic nominee, but with a decision this big, the voters should have some type of voice, especially if North Dakota is relevant enough to decide who will be on the November ballot.