US presidential elections: Are the results of the primaries binding?

From a legal standpoint, is it possible for a candidate to bypass the primaries/caucuses and be nominated as an official party candidate? For instance, could Mitt Romney, in spite of the fact that (up until now) he did not take part in the primaries, become the Republican nominee?

Important note: This is merely and strictly a factual question about the political system in the US, not about the personalities and/or political agendas of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney.

The parties can nominate whoever they want. There is nothing legally binding them. The rules each party use for their primaries are basically a promise to the American people that the nomination won’t be some back-room deal. If they decide to ignore what delegates pick then they get to see what the people think about that decision during the general election.

It would probably be counter-productive for either party to ignore the delegates’ choices so I don’t think that would happen.

If a candidate gets a majority of delegates, they get the nomination, and I don’t think there’s any way around that.

However, if no candidate gets a majority of delegates – even if there is a clearly favored candidate with a large plurality – the voting goes to a second ballot. Pledged delegates are no longer bound to vote for the person to which they were pledged, and there will be deals, horse trading, honest debates, threats, maybe fistfights, etc., until eventually a nominee is decided upon by majority vote. It does not have to be the plurality winner. It doesn’t even have to be anyone who was in the race. It might be you!

Although I haven’t paid too much attention, my understanding is that if Trump continues to perform as he has, he won’t get a first-ballot majority. But he might.

There are 50 states, D.C., various territories, etc., each with their own rules and in some cases different rules by different parties.

In one state I lived in, the rule was the delegates had to vote for their assigned candidate for two rounds of voting and after that they could do what they want.

Hence it is important to win on the first round. In times past, there usually wasn’t much change between first and second ballot and on the third ballot stuff happened.

I’m thinking of going to the Republican convention this year, purely for the entertainment value. Cleveland in late July should be nice.

Delegates may be bound by state law or party rules to vote a certain way (at least on the first ballot) as above.

But no party is required to use a convention to choose its nominee, and no candidate is required to be in a party at all. Being nominated by a major-party convention gives you a lot of publicity and automatic ballot access in every state, though, so it helps.

The major parties adopt their platform and rules at each convention in a deliberative fashion, so it’s unlikely that nomination rules would be significantly changed if a majority or large plurality of delegates favor a given candidate.

The delegates are bound by the rules of each party to vote for the candidate they are pledged to. However, each party’s rules can be changed… by vote of the delegates. So they could theoretically all vote to change the rules to unbind themselves (at least those who are not also bound by state law).

You do know it’s Cleveland, Ohio, right? :wink:

Hey, they have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Except IIRC the GOP in particular has a rule that rules amendments can’t go into effect until the next convention. I suppose they could ignore this rule, but then it’s going to be the subject of litigation.


Brokered conventionsused to be common, but the last one was in 1952, so it’s understandable that people now aren’t so familiar with how they work. Since 1988, the only time that there’s been even speculation about a brokered convention was in 2008 for the Democrats.

As an example of a brokered convention, in the 1920 Republican convention, Warren G. Harding (who ultimately won the Presidency) was in sixth place on the first ballot, with 6.67% of delegates.

What kind of litigation would that be, contract violation?

Somewhat more relevantly, the rules in 1952 weren’t the same rules as today. I’m fairly sure that the rules have changed somewhat every single election cycle since 1952.

An overwhelming favorite from the get-go when you compare it to the 1852 Democratic convention. It went 49 ballots and the eventual nominee, Franklin Pierce, didn’t get a single vote until the 35th ballot. Stephen Douglas joked that no private citizen was safe from being nominated. Mrs Pierce didn’t want her husband to win and saw the later death of their child in a traffic accident as God telling them of His displeasure.

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The delegates are bound by the rules of each party to vote for the candidate they are pledged to.

Only on the first vote. If that does not give one candidate a majority they can vote however they want (that’s where the brokering part of a brokered convention comes in)

Good point.

No. It is entirely possible that the convention will operate under rules it sets for itself on the first day. While there is a package of rules handed down from the preceding convention in Tampa, plus the RNC rules committee, all of that is potentially subject to change. The Rule 40 about needing a majority (not plurality) of delegates from eight states may be thrown out as unworkable, for example (not even Trump may have that).

Poli Sci 101:

The US Constitution defines who can be President.
As a practical matter, it requires extensive organization to pull of an election victory.
Enter: Political Parties
Political Parties can run anybody they want. All the party does is provide support for candidate(s).

The system of Primaries/Caucasus were created by the Parties. There is no legal requirement for them.
As a practical matter, if somebody told the Delegates to go home, we don’t want you messing up OUR plans, there would be a quick display of “Who, exactly IS the Party?”.

This is why the current discussion of just how a “Nominating Convention” works.

Just remember: The police are not there to create disorder, the police are there to preserve disorder.

Although they did seem to contribute a lot of additional disorder in Chicago, 1968.

With the Yippies throwing rocks, bottles and feces at them.