Although we will probably know soon enough, right now there is much speculation about the possibility that no Republican Presidential candidate will have a majority of delegate votes when the Republican National Convention convenes in Tampa on August 27th. As a result, pundits speak of a “brokered” convention.
What they really mean most likely is a “deadlocked” convention – that is no one candidate has 50% + 1 of the delegate votes and no one has the authority to command delegates to vote one way or the other. A brokered convention, not seen in a long time, is one where a person with clout or authority, a “broker” or a “boss”, can demand that a segment of delegates who are beholden to him or her, vote in a certain way or face penalties. This type of convention was probably last seen in 1948.
A deadlocked convention could be a wild and wooly affair. Altogether
there will be 2,286 delegate votes at the Republican convention. We
think we will know how most delegates will vote based on the results of the
current on-going primaries and caucuses. However there are a substantial number of at-large delegates who will attend beyond those selected in primaries and caucuses. Each state gets 5 at-large delegates for each Republican Senator and 3 for each Republican Representative. Jurisdictions such as American Samoa, Guam, Northern Marianna Islands and the Virgin Islands get 6 each and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico get 16 and 20 respectively. Additionally, all states and jurisdictions get 3 more for their top party leaders. That adds up to a lot of at-large delegate votes.
While it is generally understood that delegates are ‘bound’
to vote according to their state’s primary or caucus results, this is not
actually the case. According to the state they are from and the rules that
prevail in their primary or caucus, some are “pledged” and some are “unpledged”.
Beyond that, included in the rules of the Republican National Committee is Rule
38 which says that delegates are really free agents. There is disagreement
among Republican officials about these conflicting versions of a delegate’s voting
responsibility, at least in the first round of voting. If Rule 38 were to prevail, it could theoretically lead to a free-for-all but, as most delegates most likely support the candidate they represent, this is unlikely to happen. However, if a candidate withdraws from the race, he may ask his delegates to vote for a certain other candidate but they may or may not do so. As an example, if Ron Paul or Newt
Gingrich were to withdraw either before or at the convention, the delegates
they have earned to-date may be asked by them to support someone else – say Romney, which they might or might not do. If, after several rounds of voting, there is still no candidate with a majority, it is possible that a floor nomination could be made for a new candidate.
All of this is unlikely to happen but it is possible which is what makes it interesting.