Will Voters or the Rules Committee select the 2016 Republican Nominee?

On Monday, February 1, 2016, the nation turned its attention to Iowa, where the first ballots of the 2016 Presidential campaign were cast. Since then, twenty-two state primaries and caucuses have taken place, but no one can confidently predict whether a candidate will secure the party’s nomination at the Convention. Because of this, the obscure yet significant Rules Committee may play a major role at the Republican Nominating Convention. “If you control the Rules Committee,” the political pundits prophesy, “you control the contested convention.”

Each state and territory selects one man and one woman to serve on the Committee. The 112-member delegation is responsible for approving the rules that will govern the Republican nomination process. It would be unwise for a candidate to underestimate the committee’s influence. In 2012, the Committee prevented Ron Paul’s name from getting on the nomination floor with Rule 401(B), which requires each candidate to win a majority of eight state delegations to be eligible for nomination. Mitt Romney, the only qualifying candidate, won the 2012 Republican Nomination.

If neither of the Republican candidates obtains 1,237 delegates by the party’s convention, a contested convention will take place. During this process, the delegates will keep voting until one of the candidates reaches the magic number (1,237). Traditionally, there are two types of delegates: bound and unbound. Bound delegates must vote according to their state’s primary election results, but unbound delegates are essentially free agents. Each state and territory gets to categorize its delegates. This process can be very unpredictable and extremely frustrating for the campaigns involved. If no candidate reaches the threshold after the first round of voting, the contested convention turns into a brokered convention.

At the brokered convention, a portion of the bound delegates become unbound delegates; they have the freedom to vote for whomever they prefer. Furthermore, the Rules Committee has the power to undo the policies that require most of the convention’s delegates to abide by their state’s popular vote.

The Rules Committee will not be formed until the end of the primary election season, but each campaign is already working on a state-by-state strategy to make the Committee work in their favor. “All the campaigns know that they have to get their people on the Convention Rules Committee,” said Ben Ginsberg, former general counsel to the RNC.

The GOP leadership has been very vocal about their frustration with the party’s frontrunners, so the Rules Committee could be a way for them to take charge of this election. Any rule change, however, must be carefully advised, because preserving the integrity of the party is extremely important. What’s more, the rule-making process is so obscure many voters do not know of its existence or its heavy influence on the nominating process. With one candidate already predicting riots if the frontrunner does not receive the party’s nomination, complete transparency appears to be the best option. “I think that we have time to educate everybody that needs to be educated,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, “to make sure that people can’t argue if they are surprised by anything.”

At face value, the process may seem confusing. But it highlights the importance of local advocacy. The Committee is comprised of 112 grass-root Republicans selected from their local districts. As you can see, you do not have to live in Washington, D.C. to make a difference. Keep voting and caucusing for kids wherever you are!