Coming: March Mayhem

On Tuesday, March 1, millions of Republican primary voters will likely cast wasted ballots, causing a massive wave of anger and discontent.

Dick Morris 3

In the March 1 primaries — choosing about one-third of the delegates in each party — most states will divide their delegates in proportion to the candidates who exceed a minimum threshold of 20 or 15 percent of the vote.

So if, for example, Texas casts 30 percent of its votes for Donald Trump, 30 percent for Ted Cruz and 12 percent each for Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and John Kasich, then Trump and Cruz will divide the state’s at-large delegates evenly and neither Bush, Rubio nor Kasich would get any. Similarly, the delegates Texas will choose by congressional district will only go to candidates who get at least 20 percent of the vote.

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Millions will vote for candidates who will win no delegates, although they may garner significant shares of the vote. There has been no explanation of this procedure in the media. And, even if voters knew about it, how are they to know whether their candidate will meet the 20 percent threshold? They will have to be political consultants, pollsters or pundits to figure out how to make their votes count.

Another way to understand this is that millions will vote in what they think is a five-way race when, in fact, the votes of only the two top candidates will count. This amounts to a runoff.

Pundits have wondered when the race for the GOP nomination will whittle down to two candidates. The answer is: on March 1.

All this makes the race against Donald Trump particularly difficult. While the candidate who runs second to Trump — assuming Trump wins a plurality — will be the only realistic alternative, the anti-Trump voters won’t know who he is. The pollsters might have a clue, but will likely differ and be uncertain.

The dilemma facing voters will be akin to that in a winner-take-all primary. But, in those states, everyone knows the stakes, and supporters of candidates with little chance of winning know full well that they may be wasting their votes.

Only on March 2, when voters learn of the sweeping impact of thresholds, will they realize that they must temper their enthusiasm for a candidate with a healthy dose of realism about his prospects.

Among March 1 states: Alabama (47 delegates), Georgia at large (31), Tennessee (55), Texas (152) and Vermont (13) all require a 20 percent threshold.

And Oklahoma (40) and Arkansas at large (25) require a 15 percent threshold. During the two weeks after March 1, Louisiana (44), Puerto Rico (20) and Idaho (29) have a 20 percent threshold while Michigan (56), Mississippi at large (25) and D.C. (16) require 15 percent. Alaska (25) has a 13 percent threshold.

Altogether, 578 delegates, about a quarter of the total, will be chosen during the first two weeks of March subject to threshold requirements.

So, as voters from these states go to the polls, they must consider not only who they would like to see win the nomination, but whether or not their candidate will meet the threshold requirements in their state. Are they voting in a two-way, three-way or four-way race? They won’t know.

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