The Republican Convention Delegate Process Explained

February 4, 2020 by Dan McCue
(Photo by Dan McCue)

Although most of us focus on the candidates running for president, in reality, the primaries and caucuses in which we vote are a process of selecting delegates in each state to send to their party’s national presidential nominating convention.

Once at those conventions, delegates cast their vote for a particular candidate based on the preferences of the voters in the state they represent.

Despite the importance of the convention, the actual rules that cover delegate selection and behavior are obscure even to seasoned political watchers.

In this, the first of a two-part series, The Well News takes a look at the Republican Party’s presidential nominating process. It is based on material prepared by the Republican National Committee.

Related | The Democratic Convention Delegate Process Explained

This year, the party will have a total of 2,550 delegates, with 1,276 of them needed to secure the presidential nomination at the 2020 national convention in Charlotte, N.C., Aug. 24-27.

Though the main purpose of the primaries for both parties is to choose a candidate for president, the method by which this candidate is nominated varies by party affiliation and state.

Adding another layer of complexity, Republican and Democratic parties in each state select delegates based on either a primary vote or caucus.

What’s the difference?

A presidential primary elects delegates to the national nominating convention; determines the preference for a party’s nomination, and determines how all or part of a state’s delegation to a national convention will vote.

A caucus, on the other hand, typically elect delegates to a regional (usually county) convention which elects delegates who will meet later to pick the district and at-large delegates to the national convention.

What follows is a brief overview of the Republican convention process: where the delegates come from, how they will be assigned, and what the process will look like from now until August.

Delegate Types

The Republican party relies on a system that has three delegate types. The first category is at-large delegates. Think of these as statewide delegates who must be residents of that state.

Each state receives 10 at-large delegates. Additional or “bonus” at-large delegates are awarded based on recent Republican electoral success, including the election of a Republican governor, a Republican majority in one or both chambers of the state’s legislature, a Republican U.S. Senator, or a Republican majority of a state’s congressional delegation.

This year, bonus delegates will also be awarded if a majority of the state’s electoral votes were cast for President Donald Trump in 2016.

States aren’t the only entities to have at-large delegates, territories and the District of Columbia get them too.

American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands each receive six delegates; the District of Columbia receives 16 delegates; and Puerto Rico receives 20 delegates.

Congressional District Delegates

Congressional district (CD) delegates must be residents of and selected by the congressional district they represent. Each state is allocated three CD delegates per congressional district.

Republican National Committee Members

Each state’s three RNC members (national committeeman, national committeewoman, and state chairman) are automatically national convention delegates.

These are the only automatic delegates and the only national convention delegates that do not have alternate delegates.

Where Things Get Complicated

With the exception of delegates who appear on the primary ballot and are elected directly by voters, GOP rules require that statewide presidential preference votes — primaries, caucuses, or, in some cases, statewide conventions — be used to allocate and bind the state’s delegation in either a proportional or winner-take-all manner.

In 2020, 42 states will hold presidential primaries, while two states and two territories — Iowa, North Dakota, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands — will hold presidential preference caucuses.

Two states — Virginia and Wyoming — will hold presidential preference votes at their state conventions.

Kansas and two territories — American Samoa and Guam  — will adopt resolutions at their state or congressional district conventions (or the equivalent caucus in American Samoa) regarding how delegates will be allocated and bound.

Illinois congressional district delegates and all Arizona and Alaska delegates will indicate the candidate to whom they intend to be bound before they are selected as delegates.

Nevada’s Republican state committee will vote in an Alternative Presidential Preference Poll to allocate delegates.

South Carolina will not allocate delegates, and they will proceed to the national convention unbound.

Because there was only one candidate who qualified for the Hawaii Republican Presidential Caucus, all delegates will be allocated to that candidate, Donald Trump.

In states that allow an uncommitted choice in the presidential preference vote, any delegates allocated as uncommitted will not be bound to a presidential candidate at the national convention.

How Big A Slice of the Pie?

Each state must also decide exactly how they want to allocate their delegates.

States can allocate all of their at-large and congressional district delegates together based on the statewide vote or, they can allocate their at-large delegates based on the statewide vote, and their congressional delegates based on the vote in each district.

States also have the option of using completely different methods for allocating their at-large and congressional district delegates.

Unless states specifically choose to allocate them in a different manner, RNC members are allocated in the same manner as the at-large delegates.

Proportional Allocation

Proportional methods of allocation divide the delegates among candidates based on the preference vote results.

The GOP mandates that proportional allocation is required for the 20 states and the U.S. territory of Guam that hold primaries or caucuses between March 1 and March 14.

The states are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Idaho, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, North Dakota, Washington, and Hawaii.

Most proportional states have a minimum percentage (up to 20%) a candidate must achieve in order to win any delegates.

Further, some proportional states award delegates on a winner-take-all basis to a candidate who receives a certain percentage (at least 50%) of the vote.

For example, California, which has a total of 172 delegates and will hold its primary on March 3, requires presidential candidates to  submit a slate of delegates to the California Republican Party prior to the primary.

If a candidate fails to submit a slate, the state party will choose the candidate’s delegates for them.

Allocation of the state’s 10 at-large, 159 congressional and 3 RNC delegates is proportional based on statewide vote with a 20% threshold. Any candidate who wins more than 50% of the vote receives all delegates.

By contrast, Texas, which has 155 delegates and also holds its primary on March 3, has two different sets of rules for allocating delegates.

Twenty-five percent of its 44 at-large delegates are allocated to the plurality winner of the state convention, while the remaining at-large delegates are allocated proportionally to any candidate receiving more than 20% of the primary vote.

Under the state’s rules, any candidate who gets more than 50% of the vote in the primary is awarded 75% of the at-large delegates.

As for congressional delegates, Texas awards them proportionally to any candidate receiving more than 20% of the congressional district vote.

If a candidate garners more than 50% of the vote in a given congressional district, he or she will receive all three of the district’s delegates.

Otherwise, the plurality winner will get two delegates and the second place finisher will get one delegate. If no candidate wins more than 20% of the vote, the top three finishers will each get one delegate.


The winner-take-all method of allocation provides that the plurality winner of the preference vote wins all of the delegates.

States may not utilize this method to elect, select, allocate, or bind delegates before March 15.

The winner-take-all states include Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Georgia, and the U.S. territories of American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.

While a winner-take-all approach to awarding delegates would seem far less convoluted than the proportional approach, each state has its own way of doing things.

In Florida, which has a total of 122 delegates and holds its primary on March 17, the executive committee of the state GOP will select delegates for the ballot from a list proposed by each Republican presidential candidate.

A similar process is undertaken at a separate meeting in each congressional district to choose the congressional district delegates.

Meanwhile, in Illinois, which has 67 delegates and also votes on March 17, a slate of 10 at-large delegates will be recommended to the state convention by an 18-member selection committee, while the congressional district delegates will be elected on the primary ballot.

And in Ohio, which has 82 delegates and will also be voting on March 17, presidential candidates submit slates to the secretary of state for inclusion on the ballot. But individual delegate applications may also be submitted.

Related | The Democratic Convention Delegate Process Explained

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