The Republican National Committee will vote on a series of rule changes designed to tighten control of the nominating process and make sure primary states don't set off a free-for-all scramble to be earlier than others in 2016, as has happened in recent years.
The RNC is holding its winter meetings in D.C. this week, and its Rules Committee will gather Thursday afternoon to discuss ways to increase penalties on states that cut in line and move their primary dates up, and punish any states except the traditional "carve-out" states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada from holding their presidential primaries before March 1.
Republican officials have been working for months on how to change the presidential primary process after a lengthy and contentious 2012 campaign, which many believe weakened the party's eventual nominee, Mitt Romney.
The early states will be required to hold their contests in February. States that vote between March 1 and March 14 will be required to award their delegates proportionally, weakening their impact, while states after that will assign their delegates in a winner-take-all contest, making them much more impactful in the delegate count and adding an incentive to wait.
The states that break the rule could face increased penalties compared to previous years. The committee is set to vote on a rule, expected to pass, drastically shrinking the number of delegates that state will get at the party's nominating convention. States with 30 delegates or more would be cut down to nine delegates plus the RNC's committee members, and states with less than 30 delegates would be cut down to 6 delegates plus the RNC's committee members.
In previous years, states including Florida and Michigan have sought to jump the gun, moving their primary dates up, leading to a scramble by the early-voting states to slide theirs up as well. That's pushed the primary process earlier and earlier — candidates were stumping through Iowa during the Christmas season in 2011, before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. That hurt candidates' ability to reach voters in Iowa, stretched out the primary process into an even longer slog between the first and last states, and ruined the holidays of many.
The committee has sought to tighten rules and increase penalties in the past, with limited success, so it's unclear how effective the proposed changes from this year will be.