Did Mark Fisher Get His 15%?

There was real drama at the Massachusetts Republican Party nominating convention on Saturday but it happened after the delegates had gone home. Sometime after the delegates had endorsed Charlie Baker for governor the state committee finished counting the votes and determined that Baker’s Tea Party challenger Mark Fisher had received “14.765% of the total delegate count” and thus fell short of the 15% required to continue on to the primary ballot.

Or did Fisher get the 15% and we should be on to a primary fracas?

Here is the relevant portion from the state party’s press release announcing Baker as the endorsee:  Capture Fisher

As a matter of simple math 374 as the nominator divided by the denominator of 2533 gets Fisher to 14.765%.

The total denominator of 2533 however includes 64 blank votes; exclude the blank votes and the denominator is 2469. A numerator of 374 over a denominator of 2469 leaves us with 15.14% — and Mark Fisher makes the ballot!

But that depends on a rules interpretation that blank ballots should not be counted in the total and here things get murky. Convention Rule 23 states that Robert’s Rules of Order are to govern on matters not specifically covered by the convention rules. Robert’s Rules, as I understand them as an amateur parliamentarian (I am the parliamentarian of the UMass Boston Faculty Council) regards abstention or blank ballots as not counting at all, thus they are not part of the denominator, and therefor Fisher may have his 15 percent.

Convention rule 16 states in part that “The votes of a majority of the delegates present and voting must be obtained for endorsement by the Party. Voting shall continue until a candidate shall receive a majority.” The term present and voting would mean those present who vote, and blanks don’t count (my reading). If it stated simply “delegates present” the outcome might be different. Then Rule 17 on Disqualified Voters basically states that a vote for a candidate who is not qualified for the ballot “shall not be considered as a vote cast by a delegate present and voting, and shall not be included in determining the whole number of votes cast for any purpose of these Rules.” (My emphasis).

So Rule 16 contemplates the votes needed to gain the party endorsement; but does Rule 16 apply to the 15% provision?

Back to Rule 17, is a blank a vote for a candidate who is not qualified and thus not in the “present and voting” total that makes up the denominator “for any purpose of these Rules” (including the 15% requirement)?

Rule 23 also states that “The decision of the Parliamentarian on any point of order or question of procedure shall be final and binding, subject only to appeal by two-thirds (2/3) vote of the Convention.”

But then if it was the Parliamentarian who made the ruling concerning the ballots to be included for the 15% decision on Fisher, that decision couldn’t be appealed to the Convention because by the time it was made the convention had been adjourned and the delegates were already driving home or in the case of the Young Republicans, partying at the Cask ‘N’ Flagon.

Glad I was able to clear that up.

About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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