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Delegates May Vote Their Conscience At GOP Convention, Delegate Says

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Presidential candidate Donald Trump has seized the headlines again.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And he's pretty good at that.

INSKEEP: He is repeatedly capturing the spotlight with provocative claims.

MONTAGNE: This time, though, the claim is different. It's about how Donald Trump has been losing ground.

INSKEEP: He's been outmaneuvered by Ted Cruz for many of the convention delegates who choose the Republican nominee, which Mr. Trump does not like.

(SOUNDBITE OR ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: These are dirty tricksters. This is a dirty trick. And I'll tell you what - the RNC, the Republican National Committee, they should be ashamed of themselves for allowing this kind of crap to happen.

INSKEEP: Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus says the nomination process has been known for more than a year, and campaigns, he says, should understand it. We've reached out to a Republican delegate. He's Curly Haugland , who joins us from his home in Bismarck, N.D. Good morning, sir.

CURLY HAUGLAND: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Is it a dirty trick if Trump gets a lot of votes in primaries but doesn't get many delegates?

HAUGLAND: Well, what happens in primaries doesn't have a whole lot to do with what happens at the convention, no matter what the popular belief might be.

INSKEEP: Well, let's try to understand that because Trump has won a lot of primaries and some caucuses. He has won, we're told, a lot of delegates who go along with that. Isn't there a rule that requires them to stick with Trump?

HAUGLAND: No, there is no connection between primaries and the actual convention. When the convention convenes, the delegates adopt their own rules which haven't been adopted yet, but they're typically the same as the rules from the previous cycle with a few minor tweaks. But a long-standing tradition in the Republican Party that began in 1880 or earlier is the fact that all delegates to the national convention are free to vote their conscience.

INSKEEP: At all times - on every ballot?

HAUGLAND: On every ballot.

INSKEEP: You're telling us something different than something that's been repeated in the media many times. It's been said that Trump at least has the delegates that he has through the first ballot, and after that, anything can happened. You're telling me that based on your reading of the rules, you believe the delegates could do anything at any time.

HAUGLAND: Yes. Well, it's on the plain reading of the rules by anyone who would dig into it. (Laughter) It's hiding right in plain sight, as I say. And it's been there since 1880, when James A. Garfield actually wrote the language that's still almost word-for-word in Rule 37.

INSKEEP: That delegates can vote their conscience?

HAUGLAND: That's exactly what it says. It doesn't say it in so many words, but the history and the testimony of the various delegations over the last 136 years validates the fact that that's the intention and that's what it does. It protects the right of every delegate to vote freely their own conscience at the convention.

INSKEEP: Well, now you point out another fact about political conventions that people probably haven't thought about because there hasn't been a contested one in generations. The first thing the convention does is they show up and vote on their own rules. So essentially, these delegates could do anything, right?

HAUGLAND: Well, they certainly can. But it's - you know, it's always within reason. And most of the things are pretty consistent. They're basically taken out of "Roberts Rules Of Order" - how do you run a convention of delegates?

INSKEEP: Well, let me just ask you because I've heard that you want to propose a rule - perhaps other delegates do, too - that would open up this process and make it possible for you, the group of delegates, to vote for a very wide number of people for president beyond those who are still contending.

HAUGLAND: No, not that - what I've proposed is a way to honor the votes of the primary people. Even though we have no duty to do so, I have suggested that it would be very wise for us to recognize the inputs of the voters in the primaries and the caucuses. And the only way to do that is to deem every person who has participated in primaries and caucuses, and as a consequence has won even a single delegate, to be deemed to have been nominated and therefore eligible to be considered by the convention.

INSKEEP: So do you want someone other than Donald Trump?

HAUGLAND: I want a fair and open process. And I want the convention delegates to have a lot of choices - as many choices as is reasonable to expect. I don't like primaries to begin with. I'll be frank about that. But since we have them, and since there is a wide acceptance of the concept, well, let's at least honor the results of those primaries. What I'm proposing would result in eight candidates being on the first ballot.

INSKEEP: Anybody who got a delegate, in effect?

HAUGLAND: Yep. That would be Bush, Carson, Cruz, Christie, Kasich, Paul, Rubio and Trump.

INSKEEP: Just got about 30 seconds left - is there an argument to be made that the person who gets the most votes in the primaries just ought to be the nominee?

HAUGLAND: Absolutely not - 1,237 is not a mythical number. It's a simple majority of the permanently seated delegates.

INSKEEP: What about just the most votes of people in primaries?

HAUGLAND: Absolutely irrelevant.

INSKEEP: Well, there you go. Mr. Haughland, thanks very much.

HAUGLAND: You betcha (ph).

INSKEEP: Curly Haugland is a Republican National Committee member. He's from North Dakota and also a delegate who's expecting to go to the Republican convention this summer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: April 14, 2016 at 12:00 AM EDT
In an earlier version of this post, Curly Haugland's last name was misspelled Haughland.