In a state like Alabama — especially this election — it may feel like your vote for president doesn’t matter. Donald Trump is almost guaranteed to get the most votes in the Republican primary, as he’s polling over 40%. And Hillary Clinton is a lock for the Democratic primary, polling over 70%. But your vote still matters, and here’s why:
Candidates must receive delegates through these primaries and caucuses. Those delegates have an obligation to represent their district or state and vote for the candidate they are a delegate for at the party convention. In Alabama, the way delegates are allocated on the Democratic side is proportional, and on the Republican side it is proportional, but not strictly proportional.
How delegates work for Democrats
For Democrats, as long as Bernie Sanders gets at least 15% of the vote, then the available delegates will be split proportionally between Sanders and Clinton.
So Bernie fans need to show up if they want him to get any delegates at all; and though the delegate math for him doesn’t look good to win the nomination, if he has any hope at all every delegate will count.
How delegates work for Republicans
For Republicans, the delegate system is quite tricky, and minor vote differences could cause big differences in how delegates are allocated. This has not been well covered in local news, so I wanted to explain it for friends and family.
The Republican format is termed “winner take most.” In total, 50 delegates are at stake, 21 delegates by way of three delegates per Alabama’s seven congressional districs, and 29 statewide delegates. However, the key number to keep in mind is 20%.
If no non-Trump candidate gets 20% of the vote (in district or statewide), or if Donald Trump gets 50%+ of the vote, then Trump will get all 50 delegates. Both scenarios are real possibilities. However, if either Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio (the two candidates with any hope of this margin) get 20% of the vote, then they can get delegates even if they come in second place.
How the Republican race is, in a way, “close”
This matters because the latest poll puts Rubio and Cruz close, but not quite there, to that 20% qualifier. From Monmouth University, “In Alabama, he [Trump] has the support of 42% of likely GOP primary voters, compared to just 19% for Marco Rubio, 16% for Ted Cruz, 11% for Ben Carson, and 5% for John Kasich.”
Trump gets every delegate if he receives 50% of the vote, but that’s unlikely. However, he may still get every delegate if no other candidate can muster 20% of the vote. That means that if you don’t want to see Donald Trump get every delegate (or really it’s also the same if you do… but I’d rather Trump fans not know that) then it is in your interest to give another candidate — perhaps any other candidate — a chance for 20%.
Unfortunately, Donald Trump will “win” the Alabama Republican primary. There is little chance of him being upset in that regard. But he doesn’t have to walk out of Alabama with all 50 delegates.
How to stop Trump from dominating Alabama
So, what’s the most likely method to keep Trump from getting every delegate? I hate to say this, but the easiest way is to not vote for John Kasich or Ben Carson, if you were otherwise inclined to do so. Neither candidate will meet the 20% threshold, and therefore neither will receive delegates from Alabama. I applaud anyone who will vote their conscience despite the reality of things, but if your goal is to make your vote count against Donald Trump, then you need to switch your vote.
I came to this sad realization myself. Personally, I would like to vote for Kasich. I think he is the most qualified candidate on the Republican side that is capable, reasonable, and somewhat ready to lead. He’s a little goofy, but I try not to hold that against him. Still, I’m about 95% sure I won’t be voting for him.
Rubio and/or Cruz need 20%
Kasich and Carson account for 16% of that Monmouth poll, and if 100% those votes were evenly split between Rubio and Trump, then Trump would not be able to get every delegate.
If Trump wins every district, but doesn’t secure 50% of the vote in any district, and either Rubio or Cruz gets at least 20% of the vote in each of the seven districts, then roughly 7 of 21 district delegates would go to someone not named Trump. If both Rubio and Cruz get 20%, even if Trump gets double the vote, the 29 statewide delegates would be split proportionately, meaning around 12 delegates would not go to Trump.
So, if Rubio and Cruz fans don’t show up, or if Kasich and Carson pull heavier than expected from Rubio and Cruz, or if Trump’s fans show up in mass and dominate, then 50 delegates will be slated for Trump.
If Rubio and/or Cruz get 20% of the vote — but we have the same as currently predicted 1, 2, 3 finish of Trump, Rubio, and Cruz — Trump’s delegate count from Alabama could be as low as 32, meaning Rubio/Cruz could keep upwards of 40% of delegates (18 is probably best case scenario) from going to Trump.
Why it matters to slow down Trump
I’m pretty pessimistic about politics these days. Even if Trump weren’t dominating the conversation around the 2016 election, I’d be pretty bummed out about our choices overall. But I really, really do not want to see Donald Trump be the nominee of any party for president. It puts him far too close to the highest office in our land for my taste.
Despite the poor taste in my mouth for American politics, I still respect the office and even more so, the American system of governance. Donald Trump is a demagogue. That’s all there is to it. He’s lying, scheming, and playing to Americans’ most basic fears and vulnerabilities.
Seriously, he is the definition of demagogue:
A political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.
He’s not conservative. He’s not the businessman he’d like you to believe. He’s not much of anything he says, really. He’s not material for political office, much less the presidency. There’s a great video that goes in depth (and is very funny) about just how ridiculous Donald Trump is.
Who am I voting for?
Personally, like I said, I’d prefer to vote for Kasich, choosing from the five Republicans left in the field. In general elections, I’ve voted for both Democrats and Republicans the last several times I’ve voted. I’ve always voted in the Republican primaries though, as I have a better opportunity to engage in other races in our conservative state. And I’m personally conservative, even if I often think my personal (social) conservatism shouldn’t be legislated upon others, and I find myself agreeing more with Democrats than today’s Republican party often times in regard to several issues.
So, given that Rubio and Cruz remain as the candidates that can reach 20% of the vote and slow Trump, I am voting for Rubio. He’s a far better option, I believe, than Cruz. I think he has many flaws, but Cruz is in some ways as scary as Trump to me. Also, Cruz’s rope is up, with no path to win the nomination (see Huckabee, Santorum, and others in the past), while Rubio might could challenge Trump square on or (far less likely) at the convention if Trump doesn’t get enough delegates overall to lock it up.
The “establishment” of the Republican party has rallied around Rubio with similar hopes. I don’t love the establishment party, but I like it a lot more than the current alternatives. I also think Rubio has a decent head on his shoulders, even if he’s inexperienced; that is not unique for young presidents. Most of all, I would trust Rubio more than Cruz (and obviously Trump) in times of crisis, to say the right thing and do the right thing, and to represent the US well enough in front of the rest of the world.
When the general comes around, my vote will be up in the air again.
Your vote matters, make it count
Your vote matters. I went into today thinking I would make a (somewhat) principled vote for Kasich. Then I discovered the mess that is Alabama’s delegate system. (For what it’s worth, the proportionality system is weird in lots of states.)
Oh, and think I’m nuts? Well, in Alabama in 2012, we had a tight race for the Republican nomination, and the rules changes between 2012 and 2016 would have swung seven delegates, with the same popular vote: “The Alabama primary was so closely contested between Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum both statewide and in all seven congressional districts that, proportionally, each of the three candidates would have received a delegate from each of the seven congressional districts.” Rules matter.
Politics in America are weird, and the coverage of politics often fail to cover the actual important parts. But it’s a privilege to be able to vote in free elections. Not enough Americans vote, and even fewer pay close attention. I believe it is one of our duties, and tomorrow, though I’m not thrilled with the choices, I’ll vote proudly.
All these words, and I’ve only touched on national races. There’s a lot of other stuff being voted on in Alabama today. Check out a pretty thorough voter guide on Birmingham Watch to learn more about the other races.