Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Improving the Endorsement

I've written a bit about how I would like to see the Minnesota Republican Party do away with the endorsement process (two of those posts here and here).  I also did an hour on the radio (The Eight Debate: Endorsement vs. Primary) arguing against the process, where I was accused of hating freedom by one of the callers.

Since then a few posts have been written offering opposing viewpoints including this one by John Rouleau who argues for keeping the dual system we have now, and this one by Dave Thul, who is one of the most vocal supporters of our existing process.

Thul challenged me on Twitter a few weeks ago to come up with changes to the endorsement process instead of just throwing it out the window.  Although I would prefer to just eliminate the process altogether, as I think it's fundamentally flawed, I thought I would take him up on the challenge by proposing a few changes that would make the endorsement process better.

1) Change the threshold for a vote on endorsement to 75%
Currently, before an endorsement vote is taken, there is first a vote to consider whether to endorse or not. The vote currently requires a simple majority and is usually routine, as the motion is rarely defeated.

By raising the threshold required to hold the endorsing vote, perhaps delegates would consider whether they should be endorsing at all, and it would make the motion less "automatic".

2) Restructure the Nominations Committee
In the current process a small nominating committee meets with candidates in advance and then reports to the delegation on whether they find the candidate qualified or not.  One of the easiest ways to manipulate a convention is to stack the nominations committee with your supporters, and find a reason to disqualify the other candidate.

The nominations committee rarely provides useful information to the delegation, and in its current form is useless.

In my mind the nominations committee should report three things: 1) If the candidate is legally qualified to run for the position (age & residency) 2) If the candidate has a criminal record 3) The candidate's fundraising results (more on that next).

I am also in favor of signature requirements to get on the ballot, showing that a candidate has a minimum amount of support before they are allowed to participate in the election process. This allows a way to keep joke candidates from wasting everyone's time.

3) Require disclosure of financial results one week before the convention
Candidates running for office are required to file financial reports on a varying schedule based on the position they are running for.  It's easy for candidates to play games with their numbers by holding certain things back or shifting expenses to the day after the filing period, etc.  We have seen an unfortunate amount of that manipulation this election cycle.  In addition, the timing of the endorsing convention may mean that delegates are forced to make their choice based on seriously outdated information.

I would propose that any candidate seeking the nomination would be required to submit a set of financial results to the nominations committee one week prior to the convention.  This would include total amount raised, total amount spent (including unpaid invoices for convention expenses), current cash on hand, and any debt owed.  By providing this information in a uniform matter, delegates will be able to consider the financial viability of the campaigns going into the endorsement process.

4) Eliminate nominations from the floor
If a candidate is serious about obtaining the party's nomination, they should begin participating in that process prior to the day of the convention. Nominations from the floor should not be allowed.  All candidates should have to go through the nominations committee process in advance of the convention.

5) Limit the number of ballots to 5 if 2 candidates and 8 if more.
Rules of endorsing conventions vary, but typically there is no limit to the number of votes that can be taken on the way to endorsement.  Each subsequent ballot makes the ultimate result of the convention less credible, so I would propose rules that end in no endorsement after 5 ballots.

We have seen marathon conventions that go into the early morning with 23 ballots over 14 hours. We have seen conventions end because the high school auditorium they were held in needed to close down. We have seen conventions where the ultimate result was based on the number of supporters who had to go home because they had a long drive and it was getting dark out.  None of these are good ways to select a candidate.

If delegates can't come quickly to a consensus about an endorsement, there shouldn't be one. All candidates should just go to a primary and let the voters decide.

6) Require "No Endorsement" to be a choice on the ballot (and count blanks as a vote for no endorsement
Different conventions have different rules on how to treat blank ballots, some count them as part of the vote totals, some count them as spoiled ballots.

I would propose that the option for "No Endorsement" would be required for any endorsement race. This would send a clear message to the delegates that they are not required to vote for a candidate, and that their vote for no endorsement will be counted and reported as a part of the vote totals.

7) Raise the threshold for endorsement to 66%
Currently it requires 60% to be endorsed. I would propose raising that threshold slightly to 66%.  This minor tweak would again make no endorsement more likely, but is still attainable.

The changes I have proposed to the endorsement process would ultimately make an endorsement harder to attain, which means that endorsement would be reserved for candidates who truly have consensus among the delegates.  It would also make the process of endorsing a candidate more rare, rather than the automatic action it is today.

As I stated in the beginning, I would still prefer a system of selecting candidates that is more inclusive, instead of the exclusive and easily manipulable system we have today, and I would prefer to eliminate the party endorsement entirely.  That being said, implementing some meaningful reforms may be the only thing that can keep the endorsement process relevant, and I hope fans of the system will consider these proposed changes as a compromise as we work toward a way of selecting candidates who can ultimately win general elections.

Use the contact form to the right to send me an email or find me on twitter @jpkolb.  These are sincere suggestions, and I am interested in constructive feedback.  I am also entertained by non-constructive feedback, so feel free to send that along too.