After the polls closed in New Hampshire on Feb. 9, the Republican primary had a clear winner: Donald Trump. It took nearly two weeks for the state to award its 23 delegates, and in the end it gave Trump 11, John Kasich four, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush three each, and Marco Rubio two. But there's a small problem: It looks as if New Hampshire gave Trump a delegate that actually belongs to Rubio.
To understand how this works, it helps to know that there are no national rules in the Republican Party for awarding delegates. Each state makes up its own rules.
In New Hampshire, the rules seem pretty straightforward. A candidate must get at least 10 percent of the vote to be eligible to win a delegate, a threshold cleared by both Trump (who earned 35.6 percent of the vote) and Rubio (who earned 10.6 percent). Then the candidates are awarded delegates in proportion to the total vote, with the statewide winner — in this case Trump — getting any delegates left unallocated.
But New Hampshire is somewhat bureaucratically creative where math is concerned. State law specifies the use of an unorthodox "double-rounding" process, in which you round each candidate's vote percentage before multiplying by the number of available delegates, then round this product again to get the number of delegates won. Rounding Rubio's vote up to 11 percent, multiplying this by 23 and then rounding this number yields three delegates.
Three. Not two. And Trump was supposed to receive 10 delegates, instead of the 11 he got. So what happened?
The New York Times put this question to Ross Berry, executive director of the New Hampshire Republican state committee, who noted that the certification giving Rubio two delegates had come down from the secretary of state, and typically they "don't question the methods so long as the math adds up."
But in this case the math doesn't add up. "If you're looking for rhyme or reason," Berry cautioned, "New Hampshire election law may not be the place to find it."
Nevertheless, the newspaper kept looking and asked people at the office of the New Hampshire secretary of state to clarify. In response, state officials showed their work.
From their calculations it's clear that the state did not follow the double-rounding procedure required by state law. According to its rules, New Hampshire got its delegate count wrong, shortchanging Rubio. When the newspaper asked David Scanlan, the New Hampshire deputy secretary of state, about the discrepancy, his answer amounted to a big shrug, mentioning only that the state was following the same procedures it had used going back to 2008 and that the law is "open to interpretation."
Before the primary, the New Hampshire secretary of state's office confirmed that the rules required double-rounding, according to delegate specialists at the Associated Press. The AP was forced to change its delegate count when the official results did not match those outlined by the rules. The New York Times also uses the official count.
One delegate from New Hampshire is almost certainly not going to change the outcome of the race; 1,237 delegates are needed to secure the Republican nomination. And the newspaper probably never would have even discovered the mistake it hadn't been working on its in-house delegate calculator. But this is a presidential election. There are rules. And finding a mistake in the details, however small, seems to be cause for concern, and raises concerns about this happening elsewhere. If the institution responsible for awarding delegates is unable to follow its own set of rules, then to some degree, the rules don't matter.