As a supporter of a convention as the method of nomination of our 2021 statewide candidates, I appreciate the proposal by those who support a primary of conducting a statewide firehouse primary as the method for choosing our statewide nominees.
However, I believe the logistical challenges of a statewide nominating firehouse primary are too great for the party practically to execute. To the best of my knowledge, RPV has never conducted a statewide firehouse primary, with good reason. I believe that the best party-run nominating option that maximizes participation, best ensures only Republicans participate in the process, and is practical to implement is an unassembled convention with no delegate caps.
Before explaining why, let me say at the outset in the strongest terms I and all other convention supporters have absolutely no desire that the State Central Committee select the GOP’s 2021 statewide nominees and we will ensure that it never comes to that. For us, that is simply not an option.
As to a statewide firehouse primary, I believe it is impractical for several reasons. The Party Plan requires a minimum of one voting location in each unit for a statewide firehouse primary (See Article II(21)). Therefore, the Party would need to find a minimum of 126 separate locations throughout the Commonwealth—a far cry from the approximately 30 voting locations we were aiming for with an unassembled convention. Given the objections raised at the last State Central Committee meeting about the difficulty of finding voting locations for unassembled convention locations, the need to obtain insurance for each location, and the other logistical objections raised, I do not understand how a firehouse primary requiring over four times as many voting locations addresses these objections. If anything, it exacerbates them.
For us to forgo a polling location in every unit the Party Plan requires a unanimous vote of State Central to scale back to a practical number of locations. This is a higher threshold than the 75 percent required to amend the Party Plan to allow for an unassembled convention. Reaching a three-fourths vote to pass a bylaw amendment to allow an unassembled convention has proven difficult to achieve; it can only be more challenging to reach a unanimous vote to deviate from the Party Plan’s firehouse primary requirements. That is, it requires fewer votes to have the more logistically practical unassembled convention than to have a firehouse primary with something other than a voting location in every unit.
I cannot overemphasize the impracticality of a 126+ polling location statewide firehouse primary. An RPV study conducted in 2015 on the feasibility of a statewide firehouse primary estimated that it would require between 4,000 and 5,000 volunteers statewide to run a polling location in every unit. This would be a herculean task. Typically, when a large firehouse primary is conducted, experienced party hands from the surrounding localities, SCC, RPV, and the House and Senate Republican Caucuses go in to assist the process and ensure it is conducted according to plan. In a statewide firehouse primary, with 126+ voting locations operating simultaneously, we do not believe this would be possible and could lead to failures in more than one unit, which could easily create doubt about the results. We cannot afford throwing the nomination for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General into doubt.
On the other hand, since the last SCC meeting, we have already identified numerous available voting locations for an unassembled convention in nine of the 11 congressional districts. We are confident we can find locations in the two remaining districts and can implement an unassembled convention call immediately upon the adjournment of our meeting on Tuesday and allow our units to begin scheduling their calls to allow for prefiling of delegates.
I wholeheartedly agree with firehouse primary supporters that Republican voters and candidates deserve certainty in the nomination method. I believe an unassembled convention process provides that certainty and is ready to implement immediately.
RPV conducted its August 2020 statewide unassembled convention successfully. We have never, to my knowledge, conducted a statewide firehouse primary. If it is certainty we seek, conducting the same convention process that worked so successfully less than a year ago, in a party that has regularly held nominating conventions, is a better bet than a never-been-tried statewide firehouse primary, in my view.
Mike Ginsberg is the 11th District representative for the Republican Party of Virginia’s State Central Committee.