The question arises, how could this happen, at this late date?
Two steps: 1) Delegate petitions to put his name in nomination. 2) Delegate abstentions on the first ballot.
Here are the applicable rules and procedures.
First, Republican National Convention rules state (quite absurdly, but that’s an argument for another day) that no candidate’s name may officially be placed under consideration for the presidential nomination, and no votes for a candidate for the presidential nomination may be officially tallied, unless a plurality of the delegations of five states signs a petition supporting the official consideration of that candidate. But, note: Even a delegate officially bound by party rules to vote for another candidate may still sign a petition supporting the placement in nomination of another name.
Therefore, if enough delegates from at least five states sign a petition asking that Coburn’s name be put in nomination, then he will clear the first hurdle of being allowed to have votes cast for him.
Second: Yes, abstain. Not even a delegate “bound” to vote for Trump as opposed to any other candidate is required to cast a vote for any candidate at all. An abstention, or a vote of “present,” is an affirmative vote NOT to approve of a candidate currently under consideration. Because an absolute majority, rather than a simple majority, is required for the nomination to be secured, every abstention effectively lowers Trump’s available number of votes while still leaving intact the high bar of 1,237 votes needed for the nomination.
In other words, if your state’s primary would require than any vote cast by a delegate be cast for Trump, that delegate may not (on the first ballot) vote for Cruz, or Rubio, or anybody else. But note that while it precludes a vote “for any person other than the candidate to whom he or she is bound,” it does not preclude a decision not to vote at all.
This is both common sense and a basic tenet of representative government. There is no known theory of small-‘r’ republican government that allows an organization to count a vote as cast when it hasn’t been cast at all. There is no known way, under any understanding of voting rights, for a person to be forced to cast a vote against his will. (Even those few countries that have “mandatory” voting allow the voter, once at the polling place, to enter a blank ballot — an abstention. The requirement is to show up, not to contradict one’s conscience by casting a vote one does not desire to cast.)
This is arguably a First Amendment issue: Just as everyone has a right to free speech, everyone has a right not to speak at all. Compulsory speech — and voting is indeed a form of speech — is absolutely prohibited in these United States.
One more point: If the convention chair does try to count an abstention as a vote cast for Trump, any delegate who abstained and who can get to a microphone has an absolute right to raise a Point of Order. A Point of Order absolutely must be recognized. If a Point of Order has been raised, no other business can be conducted at the meeting until the Point has been ruled upon. And any rule of the chair on a Point of Order can be challenged with a non-negotiable demand for a vote on the ruling.
Conclusion: If 1,237 duly seated convention delegates refuse to vote for Trump on the first ballot, either by voting for another candidate they were originally pledged to or by abstaining, then the party has no right to name Trump the nominee unless and until he receives 1,237 on a subsequent ballot.
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