Applied Civics 101

In the past 48 hours, much misinformation has been disseminated regarding elections, delegates, and the RNC National Convention. This, unfortunately, has spread far and wide by an ill-informed electorate who has bought into lies that have been perpetuated by others who have not bothered to do some simple research. The cycle continues each time a post on a social media outlet is shared or commented on by others who do not know the truth either. This article is an effort to end the lies, intentional or not, and to teach a little bit of civics to those who haven’t attended a government lesson in a long time.

Many of you may know that by last Friday evening, the Trump campaign sent an email to their base advising supporters to attend the State Executive Committee meeting held Saturday morning in Nashville. Dozens of Trump fans turned out in hopes of preventing the SEC for the state Republican Party from appointing a slate of delegates who would represent the Trump, Cruz, or Rubio campaigns at the national convention this summer. Just this information alone has proven to be very confusing.

First, many people do not know who the State Executive Committee for either political party is. Both the Republican Party and the Democrat Party in each state have this committee in some form. In Tennessee, the Republican (SEC) is made up of one man and one woman who represent each of the 33 state senate districts, making a committee which serves as a board of directors for the state party. You probably do not remember seeing their names on a ballot, but you elected these members in the fall of 2014. Their names were the last ones on the statewide ballot. You could select one man and one woman to serve as your representatives to the state party.

These sixty-six members (33 x 2 = 66) are unpaid. They are not reimbursed for any expenses they incur in the line of their duties, not even gas money (and some live in very large senate districts made up of several counties). Their duties include disseminating information from the state party to the local parties in their respective districts, working with local parties to increase their numbers, relaying any problems or requests from the local party to the state party, and finding good candidates to run for office. They are supposed to attend every Republican activity or meeting in their district that is possible.

These members are required to meet quarterly on dates pre-determined by the state party chairman whom they elected. These meetings are public and advertised. Any Republican is permitted to attend providing that space allows without violating any fire codes. The media is also allowed to attend. Rumors of closed door meetings are false.

Second, few people understand how delegates to the RNC are selected. Two overriding rules determine this in Tennessee. First, a presidential preference election is held and voters elect seventeen delegates. That consists of 14 delegates who run for a statewide position (usually people who have statewide name recognition), and three delegates who run in their congressional district. Because Tennessee has nine congressional districts, the voters across the state elect twenty-seven for those congressional districts and fourteen statewide positions. This is a total of forty-one.

Tennessee is allowed to send 58 total delegates to the convention. Since 41 are elected, that leaves 17 others. Three are the automatic appointments of the state party chairman, and the state national committeeman and committeewoman. These delegates are elected by the SEC members (These SEC members are suddenly becoming very important. I’m guessing you wish you had looked more closely at those names in 2014 before you voted for them.) The remaining fourteen delegates are then appointed by the SEC, this being the second of the two rules to determine the TN delegation to the convention.

It’s important to pause here and say that Tennessee GOP by-laws make this state a proportional one. Unless one candidate gets more than 80% of the total vote, he or she will not earn all of these fourteen delegates. Any candidate who receives more than 20% of the vote will earn an amount proportional to the votes they get. Some states are “winner-take-all.” Due to this year’s election, the Donald Trump was awarded a combined total of elected and appointed delegates of 33, Ted Cruz was allotted 16, and Marco Rubio earned 9 (33+16+9= 58)

Under the Tennessee GOP by-laws, those campaigns who receive more than 20% of the votes cast in the GOP presidential preference primary will receive a proportion of the remaining 14 delegates. The campaign leaders in the state will submit a list of potential delegates and alternates to the state party chairman that they would prefer to represent them at the RNC. The chairman and his staff will then work to determine the eligibility of each of those delegates. This is where the process gets very cumbersome and difficult.

For example, the campaigns will present those names of people who worked tirelessly for the candidate. Unfortunately, some of these people may not have a stellar voting record. If they do not meet the requirement of the state by-laws, they will not be eligible to serve as a delegate. After that, this process becomes brutal and often unfair, not simple. Some feel that when a campaign submits their choices, those should be honored. However, if a person whose name has been submitted has not always been a great supporter of the GOP, the state will not want them to be a delegate at their convention.

In the end, the state party chairman submits his final list to the SEC members for their approval, or not. If the SEC members do not approve of the appointees, the chairman and representatives of the campaigns will meet once again to develop a new list to submit to the SEC.

It’s also important to note that, at least in Tennessee, the entire slate of delegates must be given a single up or down vote. Unless they can jump through a multitude of unknown parliamentary procedural hoops, they cannot vote on the potential delegates individually. This is why there will be some appointed delegates that one side or the other will not like. You simply cannot make all the people happy all the time.

By the way, none of this information was taught in your high school government or civics class. Those classes are designed to teach about our levels and divisions of government and how they work, not partisan politics. If you wish to be part of the politics that creates the government, you need to do your own homework. Most people believe it is enough to show up and vote on Election Day and then whine or scream when something doesn’t go their way. If you want to participate in the process, then educate yourself.


~Temerity Dowell


3 thoughts on “Applied Civics 101

  1. Ms. Dowell, while I appreciate your explanation of how the sausage is made, I believe you have left out a few truths, and those truths have many TN citizens enraged. I might also add the manipulation of the delegate selection system was not necessary and has not advanced the cause of the TNGOP . One truth is that the people of TN elected an entire slate of people to represent their candidate. While we know all of those running would not be given the opportunity, we would hope good judgement would lead the group to select from this elected delegates. We also recognize the TNGOP privilege of not using this common sense. But to add insult to injury selecting two delegates who publicly have disparaged Trump selected to pledge their vote for him who is a travesty. Elections have consequences. He who has the votes makes the rules! It is so, but it does not mean it is principled. The same situation is seen for the Cruz delegates. Candidates who literally had the highest number of votes were overlooked with favoritism and delegates that have show little if any support for the candidate. Again, we are talking about a lack of trust in the hierarchy of our party. No surprises there but rather total bewilderment as to why they would work so hard to drive people out of the Republican party. This election is one of the most contentious I can remember, destroying groups, friends, and many relationships. The TNGOP SEC could have used this opportunity to not take sides and let the will of the people of the State of TN prevail putting “favors” aside an honoring the electorate. Unfortunately once again we are left with “Lucy holding the football”


    1. Patricia,
      Thank you for reading the post and for your comments. I believe if you read it carefully, you’ll see that the purpose of the post was not to support or condemn the GOP, but to simply explain the process they must go through in order to elect the delegates. I agree that it appears that favoritism may have played a role. My job is not to determine whether or not this is true, but to educate readers as to the process and stop some of the misinformation that has spread. Ultimately it falls to the hands of the SEC. Those members had an opportunity to vote down the slate of delegates and they did not. I would encourage you to contact those members who represent your district and ask them how they voted. I would also find those members who did vote for the slate and work toward defeating them in their respective districts in 2018.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s