GOP delegate reminds voters: Technically, it's not your choice

RNC Member: Political Parties Choose Nominees, Not Public
RNC Member: Political Parties Choose Nominees, Not Public

For GOP voters already unhappy at the prospect of a contested convention, one delegate headed to July's Republican National Convention has an uncomfortable reminder for them: They're not really in charge.

"The media has created the perception that the voters choose the nomination," said Curly Haugland, a delegate from North Dakota told CNBC. "That's the conflict here."

In the strictest sense, that's true across the board.
At primaries and caucuses across the country this spring, voters are actually electing delegates to the convention, allocated proportionally to candidates by each state's vote, who will ostensibly vote on their behalf for the candidate of their choice.

Click through 20 celebrities who endorsed Donald Trump:

But in many states, those delegates are not bound to any candidates after the first ballot – the voting will go on to a second or third ballot, or beyond, if one candidate does not get the 1,237-delegate vote majority needed to win the nomination – and can choose whomever they want in subsequent votes.

Others, like Haugland, are unbound from the start. North Dakota is one of a handful of states and territories where the GOP does not hold a primary or a caucus, along with American Samoa, Colorado, Guam, and Wyoming, where delegates are not bound to voters' preferences. Some 112 GOP delegates will get to vote their choice from the get-go.

"The rules haven't kept up," Haugland said. "The rules are still designed to have a political party choose its nominee at a convention. That's just the way it is. I can't help it. Don't hate me because I love the rules."
Haugland, in fact, has proposed a change in rules that would allow any candidate who earned at least one delegate to be submitted for nomination on the floor. That would sweep away requirements that, for the moment, would preclude either Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas or Ohio Gov. John Kasich – or any of the candidates who collected delegates before dropping out of the race – from qualifying for the nomination under Rule 40, which requires a candidate to have the majority of delegates from at least eight states.

So far, the proportional allocation of delegates means front-runner Donald Trump is the only candidate to have met this mark. The billionaire businessman has met the requirement in 11 states; Cruz has done so in just four, despite victories in 10 states

That proportional allocation may prevent Trump, who leads his rivals in the delegate count but has collected just 47 percent of the delegates allocate so far.

If he heads into Cleveland in July short of the 1,237 threshold, delegates like Haugland, or those who may have been originally given to candidates that have since dropped out, could help throw the nomination to him in the first ballot.

But if the first ballot fails to name a nominee, and the contested convention scenario plays out, "some shenanigan" could end up leaving a lot more Republican voters feeling as though their voices were ignored.

"It could introduce Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, or it could be the other candidates that have already been in the race and are now out of the race, [such as] Mike Huckabee [or] Rick Santorum," Gary Emineth, another North Dakota delegate, told CNBC. "All those people could eventually become candidates on the floor."
Emineth told CNBC he was worried that the Republican Party's anxiety over Trump's rise – and their increasingly desperate efforts to stop him – could cause them to overstep. Trump has already warned of "riots" if his supporters found themselves shut out.

"It's important that the Republican National Committee has transparency on what they're doing [on the rules] going into the convention and what happens in the convention," he continued. "All the votes that have been cast in caucuses and primaries ... don't disenfranchise those voters. Because at the end of the day, our goal is to beat Hillary Clinton or whoever their nominee is in November."