GOP Convention Voters: Present and Unaccounted For, Sir!

I’ve just gotten around to reading the Boston Globe’s editorial In GOP convention dispute, democracy draws a blank about the furor about whether or not Mark Fisher got the 15% of the vote needed at the Republican convention to assure him a ballot spot on the September primary.

I’m more confused than ever by the factual clarifications offered by the party.

As I argued yesterday in Did Mark Fisher Get His 15%? and the Globe recognized today, if the 64 blanks cast in the governor’s endorsement vote were not counted in the total of ballots cast, Tea Party candidate Fisher would have had the 15% needed to assure him a spot on the primary ballot. But the Massachusetts Republican Party did count the 64 blanks increasing the total number of ballots cast and resulting in Fisher falling just short of the 15%. Fisher is contemplating legal action and the furor continues.

The Globe editorial offers this explanation from a party leader:

As Rob Cunningham, executive director of the state Republican Party, explains, the actual percentage attributed to Fisher “depends on what your definition of ‘blank’ is.” According to the state party’s official tally, Charlie Baker — the clear favorite of the party establishment — received 2,095 votes, while Fisher, a Tea Party candidate, received 374 votes. Another 64 people voted for an option labeled “blank.” If those blanks aren’t counted, the total is 2,469, and Fisher’s share is 15.1 percent; if blanks are counted, the total is 2,533, and Fisher’s share is 14.8 percent.

On Saturday, blanks were counted as votes. Cunningham said explicit instructions were relayed to the Baker and Fisher campaigns, as well as to convention delegates, that “a blank vote is the equivalent of ‘present’ ” and would be counted as part of the overall tally.

Nowhere in the Convention Rules that were published and available to the delegates and public in advance of the convention, does it say anything about “a blank vote is the equivalent of present.” Even if it did Robert’s Rules doesn’t recognize such a thing as a “present” vote – it is effectively an abstention or blank and abstentions or blanks are not counted toward the total vote.

So let’s say that the campaigns and the delegates were given explicit instructions that a blank/present vote gets counted toward the total. What form did those instructions come in? Wouldn’t that require an amendment of the Convention rules? What body did that? The Rules say that rules can only be suspended by a 2/3 vote of the Convention.

There would have to have been several separate provisions of the rules amended.  First, Section 5 of the Rules states that “Any candidate who receives a majority vote of the Convention delegates present and voting in accordance with these Rules shall have the status of the endorsed candidate of the Massachusetts Republican Party for election at the ensuing state primary election.” As I explained yesterday the “present and voting” standard excludes blank ballots so that would have to be changed or a candidate could conceivably get the endorsement without blanks counted while a challenger would be excluded with blanks counted.

For the same reason the party would have had to amend Convention Rule 16 which reads: “The votes of a majority of the delegates present and voting must be obtained for endorsement by the Party.”

Rule 17 probably should have been amended too, it reads: “A vote cast for any ineligible candidate or for any candidate who was not nominated and seconded in accordance with these Rules, or for any candidate who is removed from further consideration in accordance with these Rules, 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.”

Also Rule 23 which reads: “No vote shall be reconsidered during the Convention except after the affirmative vote of two-thirds (2/3) of the delegates present and voting upon a motion for reconsideration of the vote.” If Rule 23 wasn’t amended a vote taken with blanks counted could be overturned by a 2/3 vote with blanks excluded.

Finally Rule 24 reads that “Following adoption of these Rules, Rule 23 and the first sentence of this Rule 24 shall not be amended or suspended. Any other Rule may be suspended only by two-thirds (2/3) vote of the Convention.” So when did the Convention vote to suspend Rules 5, 16, 17, and 23?

My post yesterday was tentative in asking if Fisher might have earned his place on the ballot; tentative because I had hoped the party would offer some plausible explanation of its rules and procedures. Instead I find the party’s explanations unconvincing.





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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