The Virginia GOP says 53,524 delegates have registered to vote in the party’s nominating convention next week, in which Republicans will select their candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Rich Anderson announced the number at a candidate forum on Tuesday evening, predicting the event would be “the largest state party convention ever in American history.”
The convention is set for Saturday, May 8, and, unlike a traditional convention held at a single location, will take place at voting locations set up around the state to comply with COVID-19 safety rules.
The number of registered delegates is indeed high for a convention; just over 8,000 ballots were cast in the first round of voting at the Virginia GOP’s 2013 nominating convention. But this year’s delegate count represents a fraction of the 378,000 voters who participated in the party’s 2017 primary, when Republicans selected Ed Gillespie as their gubernatorial candidate — a point many were quick to point out.
The decision to hold a convention bitterly divided party leadership. And at Tuesday night’s forum, gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin expressed concern that the party’s choice is excluding potential voters and limiting its potential growth.
In addition to requiring potential delegates to register with their local party unit, participation requires traveling to a limited number of voting sites. Absentee ballots are limited to narrow religious conflicts, an exemption approved after an outcry from Orthodox Jewish Republicans.
“I’ve had dozens and dozens, if not hundreds and hundreds of good Republicans who said to me, ‘I wish I could participate, I missed the deadline,’ or, ‘I’m going to be out of town,’ or, ‘Guess what I’m in the military and I’m not going to be here,’” Youngkin said. “Shouldn’t we have 300,000 people participating in this next choice, not 50,000? That’s the way we’re going to win.”
Convention supporters had argued that, among other things, the party-run approach will allow the GOP to require the winning candidate to secure a 50-percent majority of votes cast through successive rounds of voting.
To accomplish that through a single ballot, each delegate will be asked to choose a first choice, second choice, third choice and so on.
If in the first round of counting, no candidate has won 50 percent of votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their votes are reallocated to the delegate’s second choice. The process repeats itself until a candidate wins a majority of the votes.
Additionally, the delegate votes cast by residents of each locality will be weighted to reflect participation in the 2020 presidential primary, meaning delegate votes from some cities and counties will be given greater weight and delegate votes from others will be given less weight depending on turnout.
Party leaders have warned the process of determining a winner could take multiple days. They plan to transport all ballots to a hotel ballroom in Richmond, where they will be tabulated by hand.
“This is a time-consuming process,” Steve Albertson, who led the party’s rules committee, told members of the State Central Committee on Sunday. “There is no way around it. It’s going to take a lot of folks in that room, and it’s going to take up to several days.”
Albertson said the party plans to make sure ballots are secure every step of the way, including by employing armed guards and live streaming video from the counting room.
RPV spokesman John March said that while it could take multiple days, he also wouldn’t be surprised if the party declares a winner on the night of the convention.
“It just depends on how the rounds go,” he said.
Democrats will select their nominees for statewide office during a state-run primary on June 8 that is open to all registered voters.