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Here's why the Virginia GOP's nominating process for governor could be a mess

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Candidates listen as Sergio De La Pe?a during a GOP gubernatorial candidate forum at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., on Monday, April 19, 2021.Kendall Warner / AP

WASHINGTON — Drive-up voting. Ranked-choice balloting. Weighting by locality. And results we won’t know for days.

Welcome to this Saturday’s unassembled Republican convention in Virginia that will determine the 2021 GOP nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general — and it will be far different than the state-run primary Democrats will be holding on June 8 to choose their nominees.

Here’s how the GOP convention in Virginia is supposed to work, and here’s how it could potentially produce plenty of chaos and controversy, recalling memories of last year’s botched Democratic caucuses in Iowa:

Drive-by voting: More than 50,000 Virginia Republicans have qualified to be delegates at Saturday’s GOP convention (that’s compared with the 1.9 million Virginians who voted for Trump in 2020), and these delegates will drive up their cars to some 40 statewide locations between 9:00 am ET and 4:00 pm ET; they will receive their ranked-choice ballots while sitting in their cars; they will drop off their ballots into a box; and then they’ll drive off.

This drive-by voting is all due to Virginia’s Covid restrictions; it’s why they’re not having an assembled convention in an arena or gymnasium to determine their nominees.

Ranked-choice balloting: Virginia Republicans also are using ranked-choice voting to determine their winners. So under this system, the candidate who gets the most second-choice votes might be more consequential than whoever receives the most first-place votes. A total of seven Republicans are vying for the gubernatorial nomination — and the major candidates are state Sen. Amanda Chase; state Del. Kirk Cox, a former House speaker; businessman Pete Snyder, a former candidate for lieutenant governor; and businessman Glenn Youngkin, the former co-CEO of the Carlyle Group.

(The consensus thinking is that while the controversial Chase – who has described herself as a “Trump in heels” — could win the nomination with a plurality vote in a primary, winning it at a convention with ranked-choice balloting will be much harder for her, because she’ll need a majority of all delegates.)

But here’s where the ranked-choice voting gets complicated: Counties are weighted by past GOP performance and population, so it’s not one person, one vote. Instead, it’s this delegate formula here.

We won’t know the winner for days: The actual counting of the ranked-choice ballots doesn’t begin until Sunday, and the party chair expects the results to be completed by as early as Tuesday, May 11 and as late as Thursday, May 13.

The counting (by hand!) will take place at the downtown Richmond Marriott, which is large enough to accommodate tabulators and one representative from each of the campaigns. The party also plans to have a livestream of the counting process.

Bottom line: This is unusual nominating contest — drive-by voting, ranked choice, weighting and a count that could last for days — is all occurring in a political environment where Republicans have less trust in election procedures after Donald Trump’s false claims about the 2020 race.

And Virginia Republicans already have been complaining about the issue of voter ID requirements for Saturday’s convention.

Recapping Virginia Democrats’ second debate

Meanwhile, the five Democrats running for Virginia governor held their second sanctioned debate last night. Here’s a recap from NBC’s Deepa Shivaram:

Frontrunner Terry McAuliffe took some hits from his primary opponents, particularly from former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, who framed her closing statement about how McAuliffe is a leader of the past, and that she represents Virginia’s future.

Foy, whose campaign has tried to frame this primary as a “two-person race” between her and McAuliffe, also criticized the former governor for his record on policing and criminal justice reform. Del. Lee Carter also hit McAuliffe on Amazon’s HQ2, based in northern Virginia, saying he was giving money to Jeff Bezos. McAuliffe, who wrote the bid to get Amazon to pick Virginia for their location, argued that he created jobs and “that’s what governors are supposed to do.”

State Sen. Jennifer McClellan continued to make the argument that she has more legislative experience, repeatedly mentioning the bills other candidates were touting were ones she wrote herself.

With Republicans’ convention on Saturday, it was notable that only McAuliffe mentioned the GOP during the debate, saying in his closing remarks that the Republican candidates are “fawning all over Donald Trump.”

“They're trying to bring their Trump politics here to Virginia. We can't allow it. We've got to stop them,” he said.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

More than 440: The number of people who have been charged in connection with the January 6 riot.

32,760,614: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 46,421 more than yesterday morning.)

584,125: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 832 more than yesterday morning.)

251,973,752: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

30.2 percent: The share of Americans who are fully vaccinated

Talking policy with Benjy

Will Democrats keep their promise to the uninsured? The Affordable Care Act is getting plenty of attention from President Biden, who opened it up for an emergency enrollment period through Aug. 15 and boosted subsidies for high and low incomes alike in the American Rescue Plan Act.

On Thursday, Health Secretary Xavier Becerra announced that 940,000 people have signed up for a plan so far during special enrollment, while another 2 million used the new subsidies to lower their existing premiums by more than 40 percent on average, from $100 to $57.

Biden is planning to make those added subsidies permanent in one of the upcoming reconciliation bills, which would help address longstanding complaints about high premiums, especially at higher incomes where customers previously received no help at all buying insurance.

But the White House has yet to spell out how they plan to cover the 2.2 million uninsured people stuck in the Medicaid gap. These are workers who make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to qualify for the ACA subsidies thanks to a 2012 Supreme Court decision that made the law’s Medicaid expansion optional for states.

In his 2020 campaign, Biden said he would cover the gap population with a new public option. But so far, he has not included one in his infrastructure/jobs and families proposals, and there are doubts that Democrats have the votes.

There are currently 12 states that are still declining the ACA’s offer to fund 90 percent of the expansion cost. Democrats tried to entice them in ARPA by making the federal match even more generous, but so far there’s little sign of movement.

The left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities offered some alternative suggestions on Thursday. One would be to allow people in the Medicaid gap to buy a subsidized private plan on the marketplace. This would be more expensive and the plans might not be as good a fit for the population — but it would sidestep fights with the health care industry over a public option. Another idea would be to create a federal Medicaid program and limit it just to the non-expansion states.

In both cases, there are potential complications lawmakers would need to work out. States that are already paying for Medicaid expansion might object to non-expansion states getting a free ride. Or they might choose to give back the Medicaid funding and dump their expansion population onto the new programs.

Whatever Democrats decide to do (or not), this year is their clearest shot at getting to near-universal coverage. There’s no guarantee of another anytime soon.

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

Texas lawmakers have advanced a voting restriction bill despite an all-night fight by Democrats to try to derail it.

In Arizona’s audit, it’s Republicans vs. DOJ.

And Ohio is the latest state where GOP lawmakers have introduced an election overhaul bill that would limit drop boxes and reduce early voting times.

Rep. Elise Stefanik is doubling down on pro-Trump claims, including support for the Arizona recount.

The FEC has dropped its case looking into Trump’s hush money payments to Stormy Daniels.

Caitlyn Jenner’s California gov rollout is hitting some snags.

Biden is dealing with the ramifications of last-minute changes to Medicaid made by the Trump administration.

Biden wants to ease patent protections for global vaccine production. So what now?