Yesterday, I was hanging out in a coffee shop and chatting with a group of college students who were there. As it turned out, all of them were enthusiastic Ron Paul supporters, but none of them knew that today was the day of the Tennessee primary. For most of them, this is the first time they have been eligible to vote, and they just aren’t familiar with how it works.
That was the second time in the last couple weeks where that exact scenario has happened, and made me realize that this is a real problem for Ron Paul. Much of his support comes from young voters who are enthusiastic but inexperienced. The primary system (and particularly here in Tennessee) is confusing even for those who have voted before, so I thought I’d put together this quick primer to help his supporters do what they can here in a state he is unlikely to win.
By the way, if any non-Paul supporters have found their way here, you are welcome to continue reading. On the one hand, I’d rather you not vote at all than vote for Romney, Santorum, or Gingrich, but on the other hand, I’d rather you be an educated voter no matter who you vote for. If this is helpful to you, just cast a vote or three for some Ron Paul delegates as a way of saying thanks 😉
How the Primary System Works
First, the basics. Primaries and caucuses are the ways in which the Democratic and Republican parties choose their nominees for the general election. Many people do not realize that the popular vote does not contribute directly to the nomination of a candidate. Rather, each state chooses delegates to the national convention, and those delegates are the ones who cast votes to select the actual nominee.
States are appointed delegates in proportion to their population. Each state sets its own rules for how these delegates are chosen. In a primary, people drop in at any time during the day and fill out a ballot. In a caucus, voters have to show up at a particular time and elect delegates in person after a period of debating. But even within these broad categories, much variation in rules exists.
The Tennessee System
Tennessee uses what is called a “modified proportional” primary to select its 58 delegates. As best I can discern from trudging my way through the Tennessee Republican Party’s official rules and attempting (unsuccessfully) to obtain verification from a party official, this is how it works:
In the unlikely event that one candidate receives more than 51% of the popular vote, he will receive all 58 delegates. Otherwise, each candidate will have the opportunity to pick up a portion of the state’s delegates. Delegates are broken down into the following categories:
- Three delegates are chosen from each of Tennessee’s nine congressional districts (total of 27)
- Fourteen “at-large” delegates are on the ballot for the whole state
- Fourteen more “at-large” delegates are appointed at the discretion of the Tennessee Republican Party, but based primarily on the results of the popular vote in the “Presidential Preference Primary”.
- The final three delegate slots are filled by TRP officials (uncommitted)
Most of the delegates on the ballot are “committed” to a particular candidate, meaning that they will vote at the national convention for that candidate through two rounds of voting. If their candidate drops out, or if there is still a split convention after two rounds of voting, all delegates become “free agents” and can vote for whomever they choose. “Uncommitted” delegates are free to vote for whomever they choose at any point.
The one point on which I am not 100% sure is that there is some particularly confusing wording in the TRP rules that may allow TRP officials to appoint delegates not on the ballot rather than sending the popularly elected delegates to the national convention. If anyone out there can offer clarity on this point, I’d much appreciate it!
The Ballot in Putnam County
Actually, with the exception of local elections (i.e. – for the Presidential portion of the ballot), this will be the same throughout Tennessee’s 6th Congressional district.
The first thing you’ll see on the ballot is the “Presidential Preference Primary”. Check the box marked “Ron Paul”!
Next, you’ll scroll through several pages marked “Committed and Uncommitted Delegates-At-Large”. You can vote for up to 14 delegates here, but you do not have to vote for 14. Ron Paul has 11 delegates on the ballot in Tennessee. Vote for all of them! Additionally, a local Ron Paul supporter did some phone research and discovered that one of the state’s “uncommitted” delegates, Robert Tyler Prince, is now a Ron Paul supporter. Vote for him as well, and leave it at that.
Finally, you’ll come to a section marked “Committed and Uncommitted Sixth Congressional District Delegates”. You can vote for up to three here. Select the two committed to Ron Paul and move on. The last thing you’ll see are local elections. In Putnam County, the only option here is someone running uncontested for Assessor of Property (yawn).
You’ll notice, by the way, that Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman have delegates on the ballot even though they have dropped out of the race. This is because delegates were required to submit themselves for the ballot back in September. As far as I know, these are now officially “uncommitted” delegates, though as Rick Perry has endorsed Newt Gingrich, and Huntman has endorsed Romney, I’d expect those delegates to follow those endorsements.
You’ll also notice that Rick Santorum has no delegates on the Tennessee ballot, meaning that, unless the TRP chooses to appoint delegates for him over those popularly elected, the most delegates he could receive from Tennessee is 14, even if he wins a plurality of votes in the preference poll.
A Note About Write-Ins
Though there are spots on the ballot for write-in votes, don’t waste your time. Tennessee requires people to have registered last Fall to even be eligible as a write-in candidate. A vote for anyone who has not done this is literally thrown out.
The Most Important Thing
None of this matters if you don’t GET OUT AND VOTE! So don’t forget. Be sure as well to talk to as many Ron Paul supporters as you can, and make sure they vote as well. Don’t wait; go now!
P.S. – There is a John Gardner on the ballot as a delegate for Newt Gingrich. This is NOT ME! Please don’t vote for him, unless you happen to be an actual *shudder* Gingrich fan. If John Gardner does happen to get elected, I would, of course, be happy to take his place at the convention… if only I could shake that pesky “committed” tag.