It's another gold medal for Mitt Romney today in Nevada--if he can pull out a bronze in South Carolina he'll soon be approaching Michael Phelps-esque levels of decoration. But in watching the coverage of the election returns, I heard a spokesman of Romney's emphasize that Nevada has more delegates at stake than the higher-profile South Carolina contest. Indeed it does--Nevada has 34 delegates to the Palmetto State's 24. Considering South Carolina has on the order of 1.8 million more people, I wondered why this was the case. The answer, it turns out, is that South Carolina lost half of its original delegates as a penalty for holding its primary too early.
I had assumed the only difference between the Democrats' and Republicans' delegate-penalty rules was that the Democrats strip offending states of all their delegates, whereas the Republicans only strip states of half of theirs (which, since delegates are only a secondary consideration anyway, is more or less a slap on the wrist--the media seems to pay attention to any contest that awards any delegates). But it turns out there's a further difference of which I hadn't been aware: the Republicans penalize any state that holds a primary before February 5. This year that includes Michigan, Florida, South Carolina, and New Hampshire, all of which lost half their delegates (the Democrats aren't penalizing New Hampshire or South Carolina, which got special permission to hold early primaries). By contrast, there's no penalty for holding caucuses before that date, so Iowa and Nevada escape without any penalty. Wyoming was also penalized--I had thought they were holding caucuses but apparently they held "county conventions," which are slightly different and incurred the wrath of the RNC.
All the more reason to think about a system of rotating regional primaries for 2012 and beyond.