What will happen at the convention? Possibly, not very much

The Georgia GOP convention will officially be called to order this Saturday morning. Party officials are already arriving in Columbus for advance meetings, and most of the delegates, including yours truly, will get to the convention tomorrow. There’s been no lack of discussion here or in other venues about the race for state GOP chair, the presence of former president Trump and other invited speakers, and the controversial GRA-backed rule proposal to allow conventions to ban candidates from the GOP ticket. 

But the convention may not be as controversial as some might expect. Simple logistics could prevent any extreme changes in party rules, and many of the items now attracting attention from delegates and the media may not come up for a vote at all. 

First, an overly simplified primer on the convention process itself. Although there will be meetings, events, and speakers all through the day Friday, the convention itself doesn’t come to order until 10AM Saturday. At that time, registration is closed and something called the credentials committee will need to prepare its report. 

This report essentially tells the convention how many voting delegates we have, an obvious necessity to know how many votes are needed for a majority. The report can’t be compiled until the 10AM registration deadline has passed, and convention business can’t occur until the report is complete. So right after we’re called to order at 10AM, we recess and get the Saturday morning slate of speakers while the credentials report is assembled, a process that can take an hour or two.

Once the report is complete and approved, the next order of business is voting on convention rules (a different part of the process than making any changes to state party rules, which will come later). This can be a very quick process, as the rules committee will have prepared proposed rules that are distributed to delegates in advance. But often there is an objection to the rules regarding which resolutions can be considered, adding some time for debate at this stage.

With a credentials report and convention rules in place, we can get to work! Typically the first order of business will be to elect the new state executive officers, the new state committee having already been elected at district conventions. This year, there is competition for every seat, and each candidate for each seat will have an opportunity to speak. And no business can be conducted while votes for each office are being counted, so depending on the chosen voting method, it could easily take several hours to elect the officer slate.

And, of course, former President Trump will be paying the convention a visit. He’s scheduled to speak at 2:30PM, although such speeches rarely get started on time. Certainly the convention will work around Mr. Trump’s schedule rather than the other way around. I don’t know whether he’ll deliver a long rally-type speech or a shorter address, but either way, it’s likely to take a significant amount of time out of the afternoon.

With all the above factors, it could easily be late afternoon if not early evening by the time we elect the officer slate. Next would come resolutions, which are being handled in a rather unique method this year. It likely deserves its own column and I’m not not sure how that process will play out, but resolutions are rarely a fast process even under normal circumstances. After that would be further new business, such as proposed changes to state party rules.

All of which leads to the logistics challenge. The credentials committee report will have identified the number of participating delegates, 50% + 1 of which constitutes a quorum. Naturally, over the course of a long day, people tend to wander off, particularly those who were there to hear a certain speech or vote on a specific issue and have accomplished what they came for. If it is determined that enough people have left that we no longer have a quorum, the convention is over by rule, and any further business is delegated to the new state committee and executive board.

So if enough people leave over the course of the day that we lose a quorum before we get to contentious issues like resolutions and state party rule changes, the convention just doesn’t address them at all. This was the case at the last convention in 2021, where a quorum call ended the convention before any resolutions were considered, and it happens more often than not before all potential new business is considered.

Maybe new rules and process have been put in place to streamline things in a way that let us accomplish more than ever before within state law and the party rules. (Newly elected state GOP officers certainly promise every convention cycle that this will be the case!) But if history is any precedent, it’s entirely possible that after all the online drama and arguing, the convention won’t be able to address its most controversial business at all.

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