Analysis: Why Are GOP Primaries Such a Mess?

GOP primaries this year have been filled with unpredictable twists and turns.

ByABC News
March 2, 2012, 2:51 PM

March 3, 2012 -- The Republican primary season isn't over, but viewed as a whole it's been something of a logistical farce. Just ask Rick Santorum.

The former Pennsylvania senator is running a shoestring campaign and he won the very first voter preference contest, the Iowa caucuses.

The problem was nobody knew it until 16 days later when the Iowa Republican Party announced the certified result that Santorum won by the razor-thin margin of 34 votes. At least we think he did. Eight precincts' votes were lost and not counted.

Mitt Romney, who placed second, was able to declare an eight-vote victory on caucus night and carry that momentum into the next primary of New Hampshire.

Not that it really mattered. The Iowa caucuses don't award any delegates to the national convention.

The mistakes meant reports that Romney was on track to an historic victory in the first Republican presidential preference contests morphed somehow in one day into an historic split of the first three contests between three different candidates when Newt Gingrich won South Carolina.

The problems didn't end there.

In Michigan, the caucus rules publicized by the state party before the contest would have given Santorum 15 delegates to take to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., in August. Except those rules, which had been circulated to the media and in a memo to the various Republican presidential campaigns before the Feb. 28 primary, weren't, apparently, the real rules.

The real rules, according to a vote the day after the primary by the Michigan GOP steering committee, gave Mitt Romney 16 delegates and Rick Santorum 14. It wouldn't be a stretch to call the Michigan GOP's decision unfair. The Santorum campaign has appealed to the national party to step in.

The likelihood that selection of the GOP nominee comes down to that one delegate is slim.

But in addition to that single delegate, add on the Ohio delegates Santorum won't be eligible to receive in voting on Super Tuesday -- at least nine and maybe more. This is more the fault of Santorum's campaign, which didn't file the appropriate paperwork in specific congressional districts.

And it's not as big a snafu for the Santorum campaign as Virginia is. He won't be eligible for any of the 49 Virginia delegates after missing a state filing deadline.

That's still nowhere near the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the GOP nomination. But every delegate counts.

In Ohio and Tennessee, where Santorum leads in polls, he will get delegates proportionally. Other big states, like Florida, awarded their delegates in a winner-take-all format.

And at the end of the day, running for president in a major party has just as much to do with having your name on all the ballots as it does having the ideas that resonate with a majority of Republicans.

This is part of what has led to movements like Americans Elect, which is seeking to get a non-party candidate on every ballot in the country on Election Day. It is an online process dreamed up by political consultants and politically minded rich folks who want to see an alternative. Their motto is "Pick a President, Not a Party."

However, the most supported candidate in the Americans Elect primary is Republican Ron Paul, whose supporters are the most loyal in politics. And Paul, who would eviscerate a good portion of the federal government, has very little chance of gaining mainstream support in a general election.