What is a Brokered Convention During a Presidential Primary?

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Preparing for a brokered convention
Preparing for a brokered convention

A brokered convention is also called an open convention and is closely related to, but not the same as, a contested convention. It can happen during a presidential election any time a political party fails to choose a nominee on the first round of delegate voting at the party’s nominating convention . Once the initial ballot or vote has happened, and no one candidate has garnered a majority of the delegates’ votes, the convention is then considered to be in brokered status; thereafter the nomination is finalized via a process of alternating political horse trading (superdelegate vote trading), and additional re-votes.

What are Superdelegates?

According to Merriam-Webster, a superdelegate, or super-delegate if you prefer, is “a person who is chosen as a delegate to a political party’s presidential nominating convention because of his or her status as a leader or official within the party and who is free to vote for any candidate regardless of the results of the popular vote in primary elections and caucuses preceding the convention. They were invented by the Democrats after the 1980 election in the expectation that in any future close nomination race, they would line up behind the establishment candidate and head off the possibility of a ruinous floor fight at the convention.”

As of this writing there has been much speculation of a brokered convention because there are still so many candidates on the Democrat side. At the moment Bernie Sanders is the top dog with a Democrat Socialist message but that could change at any moment.

The History of Brokered Conventions

From a historical point of view, before primary elections, brokered conventions happened often. This was especially of the Democrat party. But then after the advent of television ads and modern-style presidential campaigns, few brokered conventions have happened on the Republican side, due to increased voter participation, even though a couple of occurrences of contested conventions have happened. The last real brokered convention occurred in 1952, between Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and Sen. Robert Taft.

A contested convention is the first step to a brokered convention. This effectively means that no one candidate has reached the national convention with a majority of delegates. When that happens, at the convention, a vote is held.

The Republican’s last contested convention battle was in 1976 when Ronald Reagan attempted and failed to remove the incumbent Gerald Ford from the ticket after Ford failed to secure enough delegates to earn the nomination. Prior to that, a contested convention nearly occurred in 1960 when Nelson Rockefeller was competing against Richard Nixon.

So that’s what a brokered convention is. As much as voters of the losing party always laments the seeming folly of the electoral college, the brokered convention is just another step removed from the will of the people and should be avoided when at all possible.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.


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