W.Va. GOP may tweak delegate selection process

CHARLESTON — When members of the West Virginia State Republican Executive Committee meet Saturday for their summer meeting at the Greenbrier Resort, they could choose a new way to select delegates for presidential candidates.

The 2020 Republican National Committee Convention takes place Aug. 24-27 at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C. While it remains to be seen what other Republican candidates file for president, political prognosticators expect President Donald Trump to be nominated for a second term.

To help smooth the way for an easy nomination process, state Republican Party officials want to change the traditional way delegates to the convention are chosen. West Virginia will have 35 delegates and 35 alternate delegates for the 2020 convention. Three of those delegate slots will go to the state party chair and the state’s national committeeman and committeewoman, leaving 32 delegates.

There are three ideas being floated for selecting convention delegates ahead of Saturday’s summer meeting. The first idea is leaving the process as is, with voters choosing convention delegates on the May ballot. This traditional process created long paper ballots or pages and pages of electronic ballots 2016 as hundreds of Republicans filed to be Trump delegates.

According to data from the West Virginia Association of Counties, Roane County’s 2016 Republican ballot was 25 pages long. In Ohio County, the clerks had to program 72 screens on each electronic voting machine, with 40 of those pages for the RNC convention. Kanawha and Putnam counties had to print an extra 115,312 optical scan ballots.

Linda Huggins, the president of the West Virginia County Clerks Association, wrote a letter to state Republican executive committee members Aug. 9 asking members to consider the costs to counties for programing dozens of pages of ballots.

“County Clerks take our responsibilities for running free and fair elections very seriously,” Huggins wrote. “However, part of our charge in conducting elections is making them less burdensome for the citizen voters who participate. As well, we are sensitive to the costs our counties incur conducting elections.”

The second idea — proposed by committee leadership — would allow the state Republican executive committee and Donald J. Trump for President committee to interview interested Republicans and select delegates. Voters would still select a presidential candidate in the May 2020 primary, but the candidate with the most votes would receive all the state’s allotment of delegates.

Rick Modesitt, a member of the state Republican Executive Committee representing the 3rd senatorial district (Pleasants, Wood, Wirt, and part of Roane counties), said he understands the reasoning behind taking the delegates off the ballot, but would prefer the public selects delegates instead of the party elite.

“By allowing the campaign and the state committee to make the selection, the issue that most have raised was is it going to end up being the elite of the party, so to speak, that is selected to do that,” Modesitt asked. “There is only so many delegates to go around, so do you turn it over to them and let them pick who they want? That seems to circumvent the general role of the public.”

The third idea which appears to have less than enthusiastic support is the convention model, with counties holding conventions to select delegates to a state convention.

The state selected RNC delegates in this fashion in 2008, with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee picking up 15 delegates during the February state convention after former U.S. senator John McCain instructed his delegates to support Huckabee. McCain went on nine at-large delegates in the May 2008 primary.

“I think everybody pretty much doesn’t want to revisit that,” Modesitt said. “In theory it was a great idea because it got the candidates to West Virginia. They were all there with the exception of John McCain I believe. When McCain’s people realized they couldn’t win the vote they turned around and had all their delegates vote for Mike Huckabee and he wins the convention, but in the end John McCain wins the state.”

Once the state party decides how it wants to select RNC delegates, they must file their selection process with the RNC and the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office.

Questions regarding the delegate selection process were referred to Byron Fisher, executive director of the West Virginia Republican Party. Fisher did not respond to a request for comment.

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)


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