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In the face of a recent controversy involving delegate selection at the 2012 Republican National Convention, many readers may feel hopelessly confused. Indeed, as we speak, a few questions are likely rattling around in more than a few peoples’ heads.

Just how does one get to be a delegate anyway?

What is a Superdelegate?

Does a delegate have to vote for the presumptive nominee?

What would change under the system currently being proposed by the Republican National Committee and the Romney campaign?

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Fortunately, these questions all have answers – complicated answers, but answers nonetheless. However, if you don’t want to slog through all 41 pages of the densely legalistic convention rules from 2008, which will bind this year’s convention until its conclusion, never fear. We’ve taken a look through it for you, and are prepared to offer answers on all these questions and more. As such, we have answers to all of the above, which we’ve put together in the following FAQ-of-sorts.

How does one get to be a delegate?

The short answer is that it depends on the state. The long answer is that, depending on the state, it can also depend on the Congressional district, or on the state committee, as well as on any number of other bodies convened for this purpose. RNC Rule #15, sections c and d lay out the rules for this process in detail. Without getting too far into the weeds, according to subsection c, there are at least four potential ways to become a delegate, and they are:

1) Get elected on a primary ballot

2) Get your state’s elected Republican leadership to choose you as a delegate

3) Receive a majority of votes at either a state Republican convention, or a convention in your local Congressional District

4) Become your state’s party Chair, or get elected either as one of its two other representatives to the Republican National Committee. For men, this position would be the National Committeeman. For women, it would be the National Committeewoman. Every state has to have both a National Committeeman and a National Committeewoman. The Chair is ungendered.

So at bare minimum, these are four ways to achieve delegate status. However, in practice, there is potential for any number of other delegate selection processes, given that the RNC rules also allow states to pick their delegates using any other method, so long as that method doesn’t violate the RNC’s many rules. For a full list of states and their delegate selection processes, you can read this handy chart, courtesy of RNCLife.

Just what is a Superdelegate?

Legally, nothing – the term “Superdelegate” is purely colloquial, and designed to flatter rather than reflect any actual difference in power. Moreover, this question is less relevant for the Republican National Convention than it is for the Democratic National Convention, largely because despite being named the “Democratic party,” the Democratic party’s usage of Superdelegates is actually more extensive (and thus, less democratic) than the Republican party’s.

Why? Because whereas Republican “Superdelegates” only consist of current state Party officers, Democrats include major party figures and elected officials, both past and present. This deliberate allocation of extra power to the establishment in the Democratic primary process was widely blamed for the protracted battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the 2008 Democratic nomination. However, that’s a topic for next week, when the Democrats hold their convention. For now, let’s confine ourselves to who the Republican “Superdelegates” are.

Remember how you can become a delegate automatically by becoming Chair of your state Republican Party, or being elected National Committeeman or National Committeewoman? Take those three people, and multiply them by the number of states/territories with voting rights at the Republican National Convention, and you have the total number of Superdelegates. Ordinarily, this means that you would have over 150 Superdelegates at any given Republican National Convention. However, seeing as multiple states were stripped of their Superdelegates as retaliation for violation of RNC rules in holding their primaries, the number of Superdelegates decreased this year to 126. Out of over 2,000 delegates, that’s a relatively small number, but a relatively significant one.

So what makes these delegates “super” aside from their elevated status in the party? The fact that they can vote for any candidate they want, irrespective of who wins their state’s primary. In a close primary, this level of power can mean the difference between victory and defeat for a particular candidate, hence the “super.” That won’t be the case this year, given that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney practically ran away with the nomination. But had Romney and another candidate been stuck just shy of the majority mark, these delegates could have controlled the entire outcome of the convention.

Does a delegate have to vote for the presumptive nominee?

Technically no, and this is part of where the controversial RNC “rules change” comes in. In most states, primaries are binding, which means that delegates must be people who supported the winning candidate (though this is often true on a proportional, rather than absolute basis). However, once those delegates get to the convention, there is nothing to stop them turning around and knifing their candidate in the back by voting for someone else. This means that a delegate from New Hampshire (which went for Romney)  could hypothetically decide to back a different candidate once he or she got to the convention, even though he or she was chosen to be a delegate under the expectation that he or she would vote for Romney. This is one of the problems the RNC set out to fix by changing the rules this year, and one that they have come to an agreement with their critics about.

Where this gets murky is in caucus states like Iowa, where there doesn’t even have to be a pretense of picking delegates based on who won that state’s primary. In those states, practically anyone can be selected through what is often a completely separate process from the state’s primary, and one that is much less noticeable and much more sparsely attended. It was that fact that led the Ron Paul campaign to pursue something of a back door strategy regarding delegates by ignoring caucus state primaries, while concentrating all its firepower on those states’ delegate elections, where turnout is lower and an energized grassroots movement can control the maximum amount of electoral power. This, too, the RNC is trying to remedy, albeit more controversially.

So what would change?

As hinted above, the Romney Campaign, the RNC and the grassroots may have reached something of a compromise on what to do about these rules, avoiding a floor fight. However, not everyone is happy, and the original proposal was far more radical than what ended up on the table. TheBlaze’s Billy Hallowell brought us the text of the current proposed rules change below:

Rule 16(a)(2).

For any manner of binding or allocating delegates under these Rules, if a delegate

(i) casts a vote for a presidential candidate at the National Convention inconsistent with the delegate’s obligation under state law or state party rule,

(ii) nominates or demonstrates support under Rule 40 for a presidential candidate other than the one to whom the delegate is bound or allocated under state law or state party rule, or

(iii) fails in some other way to carry out the delegate’s affirmative duty under state law or state party rule to cast a vote at the National Convention for a particular presidential candidate, the delegate shall be deemed to have concurrently resigned as a delegate and the delegate’s improper vote or nomination shall be null and void. Thereafter the Secretary of the Convention shall record the delegate’s vote or nomination in accordance with the delegate’s obligation under state law or state party rule. This subsection does not apply to delegates who are bound to a candidate who has withdrawn his or her candidacy, suspended or terminated his or her campaign, or publicly released his or her delegates.

Translated, what this means is that any candidate who was selected to represent a particular candidate would have to vote for that candidate or be stripped of delegate status and face their vote being voided. This would correct the problem above where a delegate could stand for election under a particular candidate’s banner and vote for someone else.

Originally, however, the rule was much more sweeping. Specifically, it would have given presidential candidates veto power over any delegate who was selected to represent them. So if Rick Santorum didn’t like one of his delegates from, say, Minnesota, he could have that person replaced with another person of his choosing. Or if Ron Paul didn’t like one of his delegates, he could pick someone else. And so on, and so on. In other words, it would give presidential candidates the power to nullify the results of state delegate elections if they didn’t like them, making those elections all but completely pointless.

This understandably worried Republicans anxious to preserve state sovereignty, who worried that this would reduce every delegate selection to simply a candidate handing out favors to particularly beloved local cronies under the guise of state representation. Fortunately for those people, this expansive policy appears, for now at least, to have been defeated.

However, both the original, expansionist policy and the new, more modest one do achieve what was likely the original goal – namely, to stop the kind of back door “revolution” that the Ron Paul campaign attempted to wage this year (a set of tactics we have been covering since the beginning of this year). Now, primary results are likely to be genuinely binding, and trying to sneak in delegates in states that went for someone else by over 50 percentage points will be a fool’s errand. By amending these rules in either way, the RNC sends a message about delegate selection that is unmistakable – the popular vote, as represented in a state-level primary, cannot be cheated. If you want to be president, you have to win states fair and square.

And there you have it: all you need to know (for now) about the delegate process.

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