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So much for playing by the rules.

The presidential campaign of Sen. Rand Paul is doing whatever it takes to circumvent the well-established norms and rules of the Republican nomination process to help the junior senator from Kentucky.

At stake is Michigan’s impeccable record of fair and honest elections. Thousands of active-duty military personnel, senior citizens and college students who rely upon absentee voting would be disenfranchised from having a say if either of the Paul campaign’s alternatives — a smoke-filled backroom caucus, or a state Republican convention of about 1,900 delegates — is chosen to replace the primary.

Every other declared or all-but-declared GOP presidential candidate is fine with the primary election as set by state law for March 8 of next year.

Only Paul seeks to undermine the process, which allowed more than 900,000 Michiganians to have their say during the 2012 Republican primary.

“Any changes to the adopted rules or rescinding them completely would jeopardize our ability to get new rules accepted by the (Republican National Committee) by their October 1st deadline,” Oakland County Republican Party chairwoman Theresa Mungioli, who helped write the state’s presidential primary rules, wrote in an open letter to Republicans across the state.

Mungioli’s warning came as the Republican State Committee meets this weekend.

Most party functionaries and consultants say Paul doesn’t have the votes to do this, which means the primary would continue as planned but the votes as cast might not matter.

“This can happen because the actual delegates to the Republican National Convention are selected well after the primary under a three-stage process involving county-level conventions, congressional district caucuses and ultimately a state convention,” said Dillon Breen, the Wayne County Republican Committee chairman. “What this means is that someone other than the winner of the primary could emerge around this time next year controlling the delegates despite having lost the actual vote.”

That actually happened, on a smaller scale, in 2012 when many of the delegates sent to national convention were opposed to GOP nominee Mitt Romney, despite Romney having won.

Normally, this is the stuff of inside baseball. It seldom matters because the presidential nomination campaign is usually decided by the time the gavel calls county conventions, congressional district caucuses and the state convention to order.

This time around, however, there’s a good chance the nomination race could be unsettled well into the late spring of 2016, if not at the national convention itself. The culprit? Rule 40, an obscure provision of the national Republican rules that requires a presidential aspirant to command a majority of delegates in eight states to be eligible for nomination.

Unlike his father, Paul has done a tremendous job working within the framework of the GOP.

It would be a shame if his good work were undercut by an overzealous campaign willing to do whatever it takes to win, including changing the rules, disenfranchising voters and ignoring the outcome of the primary.

To ensure the people’s choice is respected and Michigan remains relevant — few will want to campaign here if all their time and money can be undone by a post-primary convention — the state GOP, as well as the Legislature, must amend the rules and state law governing the primary to ensure only the delegates of the winner are sent to national convention.

Dennis Lennox is a columnist for The Morning Sun of Mount Pleasant.

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