ELECTION 2016: What the Heck is a Contested Convention?

What is a Contested Convention?

In the 2016 party nomination conventions, a Contested Convention can happen if no one candidate wins the required delegates going into the convention. Republicans require 1,237 delegates and Democrats require 2,382 delegates to win the nomination. If no candidate reaches these numbers, this means the party nominee for the General Election is still not decided.

What happens if someone doesn’t get the required delegates before the convention?

It might be described as chaotic. Most delegates will arrive at the convention “bound” to a candidate—that is, they will be required by their state party (or, in a few cases, state law) to vote for the candidate they were assigned to as a result of their state’s primary or caucus. The others arrive “unbound” and can vote any way they like. The convention then begins a series of voting rounds until one candidate wins. If no candidate wins a majority of delegates during the first round—many of those delegates would then be unbound and allowed to vote for whoever they want during the second round. Even more would become free agents in the rounds that followed until eventually, it could be a delegate free-for-all.

Is there time between rounds for discussion or negotiations?

Conventions are run under a modified Robert’s Rules of Order, meaning vote timing is decided by both the committee chairperson and delegates. Most likely there will be plenty of time between voting rounds for candidates and party officials to try to woo delegates over to their side.

How many voting rounds will there be?

Until a candidate has received a majority of votes–however long that takes. Trivia: In 1924, it took Democrats 103 rounds. Bring your lunch, delegates.

How do bound delegates become free agents?

There are complicated State and National Party rules that decide when delegates become free agents. The national rules can be renegotiated making it even more complicated. According to The New York Times, there could be an estimated 80% unbound delegates after the third round of voting at the Republican Convention. It gets even more complicated if a State’s candidate withdraws. Their delegates then become free agents. Confused yet? Think about the Party Chairman trying to manage this craziness.

If a delegate becomes unbound, who can they vote for?

An unbound delegate can vote for any candidate who has officially, or unofficially, been declared a candidate.

What is a Superdelegate?

Parties don’t necessarily use this term, they are referred to as unpledged delegates, but they are delegates who have been unbound from the start. They are state party officials and members of states who do not require their delegates to be bound to a candidate. Or, some states will not hold primaries until after the convention. Their delegates may be considered unbound.

Does the winner of a Contested Convention typically win the General Election?

Short answer—no. From the Pew Research Center, in the past 150 years, of the 10 winners from a Contested Convention, who faced a non-contested winner, only three won. Not so great odds.

Is it possible to go into the Convention without enough delegates, and still win the nomination?

Yes. During the voting rounds, it is possible for a candidate to gather the required votes. This has also happened. Historically, however, these nominees did not win the General Election.

Does a comeback victory in a Contested Convention always mean defeat?

No. But in modern times it has. You have to go back in history to the early 1900s to find examples of candidates who have won.

Mark your calendars and be in the know:

Republican National Convention is July 18–21, 2016.

Democratic National Convention is July 25th-28th, 2016.

Photo Credit: GabboT via Compfight cc

  1. The more you know, exactly, Renee!
    Often I get tired of listening to a biased media telling me how things are. They jump the gun on calling who won states, and unfortunately many people rely on television as their only source of information. I’m not sure that social media has helped or hindered. I seem to just read war posts! I studied and worked in government. Bureaucracy is a slow, lumbering giant that does not change easily. I look for candidates who are realistic about their goals and not quick to build walls, figuratively or literally.

    How exciting for your twins! I still remember the first time I voted. Thank goodness they want to be involved. I really appreciate you taking the time to read this and comment. I’m a big fan of yours!


  2. Thank you Dori, for explaining this crazy process of ours. My twins will vote in this election for the first time. Gonna have them read this clear and concise explanation. The more you know…

  3. Me me me! I find the caucus process especially confusing and ripe for corruption. States with a straight primary make much more sense to me. This promises so far to test every limit to elect the most important office in the U.S. Kitt, thank you so much for reading this, and thank you even more for taking the time to comment! xD.

  4. I’ve always found the electoral process confusing and, quite frankly, insulting to the general voting public. Who agrees that the US should have direct voting without delegates?

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