What is an open convention?

April 7, 2016

The 2016 election cycle has pressed forward for months without an apparent GOP presidential nominee. The results of this week’s Wisconsin primary increased the odds that Republicans will have their first open convention since 1976.

To obtain a party’s nomination, a candidate must win a majority of delegates. For Republicans, a candidate must win 1,237 delegates—half the total number of delegates plus one. As the number of available delegates continues to dwindle, so does the probability that either Trump or Cruz will secure the nomination ahead of July’s convention. As a result, expect the speculation concerning an open GOP convention to reach a fever pitch, because such a scenario has not occurred in the Republican Party since 1976.

What is an open convention?

In the course of the nominating process, candidates mainly acquire delegates by winning victories in state primaries and caucuses. These delegates then become “bound” (required) to vote for respective candidates at the party’s nominating convention during the first—or multiple—rounds of voting depending on party rules that vary according to each state. For the GOP, a majority of delegates, 1,237, is required to secure the party’s nomination. If no candidate is able to secure a majority of delegates on the first ballot, an open convention commences with successive rounds of voting until a candidate obtains the support of a majority of delegates.

What could happen at an open convention?

When the convention begins voting on the party’s nominee, the votes cast on the first ballot will likely reflect the delegates gained through primaries and caucuses. However, if voting should extend beyond the first ballot, anything could happen. There are no guaranteed outcomes in an open convention.

Why are they so rare?

Both parties have a vested interest in selecting nominees before the national conventions. Party leaders aim for their nominee to exit the convention with party members firmly united behind him or her and significant momentum built up for November’s general election. Not only are open conventions divisive and unpredictable, they are also aired in prime time. The potential for harm to the image of the eventual nominee has led officials in both parties to create nominating processes that are designed to avoid open conventions entirely.

This is underscored by the fact that the phrase “open convention” is itself fairly novel. Perhaps signaling their concern that such an event was inevitable, many Republicans have recently adopted the phrase in order to frame the issue more positively. However, these occurrences have traditionally been known as “contested” or “brokered” conventions, which more accurately reflect the adverse nature of these events. That is why, for decades, both parties have worked to ensure their conventions function as celebratory demonstrations of party unity.

How does the convention select a nominee?

Depending on the state, most delegates are bound to a candidate on the first ballot and often the second or third ballot as well. This is why a candidate can secure the nomination on the first ballot by winning a majority of delegates through the state nominating contests. The convention will continue rounds of voting until a candidate wins the votes of 1,237 delegates on a single ballot.

The delegates casting votes at the convention are actual people who may not personally support the candidate to whom they are bound. Should the voting move beyond the first ballot, delegates are “released” to support another candidate on later ballots once they have fulfilled their obligation to vote according to their respective state’s rules.  

Who will be on the ballot?

Based on the current rules established in 2012, it is possible that only candidates who have won at least eight states will appear on the first ballot. This is due to Rule 40(b), (a rule only recently enacted by the GOP), which stipulates that a candidate must win a majority of delegates in eight states in order to be placed into nomination. However, the Convention Rules Committee will gather the week before the convention to consider these rules and recommend any changes. Changes to the rules will then be brought before the full number of convention delegates for ratification. Because the actual rules that will govern this year’s convention are yet unknown, it is impossible to know which names will appear on the first or successive ballots.

When will we know?

Unfortunately, the delegate math indicates that even if Trump or Cruz win the nomination before the convention, it is unlikely to occur before June 7—the last day of voting. With 754 delegates, Donald Trump continues to lead Ted Cruz who now has 514. While delegate-rich states such as New York, Pennsylvania and Indiana hold contests in April and early May, if this contest is decided before the convention it will probably happen on June 7, when over 300 delegates are up for grabs, including 172 in California.

How often does this happen?

Open conventions are rare, but they do happen. The last time the GOP had something similiar happen was in 1976 when insurgent candidate Ronald Reagan mounted a serious challenge to incumbent Gerald Ford. Ford emerged as the Republican nominee and lost in the general election to Jimmy Carter.

The GOP has actually endured ten open conventions throughout its history, six of which resulted in a general election victory. In 1860, the “distant second-place contender, who had only 22 percent of the delegates” ultimately secured the Republican Party’s nomination and went on to win the White House. That candidate was Abraham Lincoln.  

Why aren’t we talking about an open Democratic Convention?

The Democratic Party does not utilize the same nominating process as the Republican Party. Though their nominating seasons look fairly similar (states vote in largely the same order and both require a certain delegate threshold to secure their party’s nomination) the processes have important differences.

Democrats allocate a greater number of delegates to states and territories than Republicans. This requires Democratic candidates to garner a larger share of delegates, 2,383, to reach a majority and win the nomination. But the largest difference is that Democrats also allow a significant number of “unbound” delegates—the often referenced “superdelegates”—to cast votes in favor of their preferred candidate. The Democrats have 714 unbound delegates in this election cycle, most of whom are party leaders and elected officials.

Like Republicans, Democrats have a long history with open conventions. At the first Democratic convention in 1832, delegates nominated Martin Van Buren to join Andrew Jackson’s ticket as Vice President. More recently, the party braced for an open convention in 1984 as Gary Hart challenged frontrunner Walter Mondale. But with the help of superdelegates, Mondale successfully avoided a multi-ballot scenario by securing a majority in the first round of voting. The last time a Democratic nominee was decided by an open convention was in 1952 when the party nominated Adlai Stevenson.

While Bernie Sanders continues to trail Hillary Clinton 1,090 to 1,300 in pledged (bound) delegates, Clinton has so far maintained a substantial lead among the party’s superdelegates. While the Democratic contest is far from over, for now, the outsize role of superdelegates has kept any talks of an open Democratic convention at bay.

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24