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Democrats move to allow remote voting or a virtual summer convention

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 5/12/2020 Michael Scherer
a man standing in front of a crowd: Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and his vice presidential nominee Joe Biden wave to the crowd after Biden accepted the Democratic nomination at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. © Chris Wattie/Reuters Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and his vice presidential nominee Joe Biden wave to the crowd after Biden accepted the Democratic nomination at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.

The Democratic Party plans to adopt new rules Tuesday to narrow the scope of its presidential nominating convention, potentially paving the way for either a limited in-person gathering or a virtual event this August.

The proposed changes, which are expected to be adopted in virtual meeting of the party’s rules and bylaws committee, would allow delegates to participate even if they do not attend the convention in person. No final decision on the convention is expected to be made in coming weeks as organizers await a decision by federal, state and local health officials.

The convention had originally been planned for July in Milwaukee, but was moved back a month in hopes that restrictions forced by the coronavirus pandemic would ease by then. 

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said over the weekend that she had told Democratic Party Chair Tom Perez that the nearly week-long event could be held over a single day at an outdoor stadium.

“My suggestion to Mr. Perez was get a gigantic stadium and put people six feet apart so maybe instead of having 80,000 people there you would have 16,000 people there and just do it all in one day,” she said in an interview with C-SPAN.

By adopting the proposed rule changes Tuesday, Democrats will open the door to another possibility — a much smaller in-person event, which can be attended by some but not all of the nearly 5,000 voting delegates and tens of thousands of other guests.

One section of a new proposed resolution to be voted on Tuesday recommends “certain changes . . . so as to safeguard the ability of all validly-elected Convention delegates to participate in the Convention in person or by means that allow for appropriate social distancing.”

Party leaders also intend to grant the convention organizers significant powers to make changes to how the convention is run. Among the changes scheduled to be adopted Tuesday is language that will allow “maximum flexibility to plan a safe event that guarantees every delegate can accomplish their official business without putting their own health at risk,” according to a briefing paper distributed by the party on Monday.

The new language, if it passes the rules committee, will eventually be voted on by the full Democratic National Committee in the coming weeks. That vote will be conducted by mail, according to a Democratic official familiar with the plans.

Joe Solomonese, the chief executive of the Democratic convention, said in a statement Monday that he supported the changes.

“This resolution provides our team with increased flexibility to adjust our plans, ensure that every delegate is able to accomplish their official business without putting their own health at risk, and enables us to chart the most appropriate course forward as we work to launch our nominee to victory in November,” he said.

The rules changes will also remove two of the five floor votes traditionally required of all delegates at the four-day event. Under the proposed changes, all elected and appointed delegates will still vote to nominate a presidential candidate, a vice presidential candidate and to accept the party’s platform.

But the two other floor votes, on the rules for the convention and the credentials for those who can participate, will now be passed by smaller subcommittees before the party’s full gathering.

The party will also formally accept on Tuesday the new primary dates for five states that delayed their elections because of the coronavirus pandemic. New York, which initially canceled its presidential primary, now plans to have its contest on June 23, after a judge ordered the election restored. Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey and Delaware have also rescheduled their primaries for June and July.

Under the previous rules, all of those states stood to lose delegate representation at the convention because their primary elections will fall outside the schedule originally set by the party. But Tuesday’s meeting is expected to remove those penalties, allowing the states the same representation as if they had held their primary elections as planned before the viral outbreak.

Both parties have been privately preparing dramatic adjustments to their summer convention plans, given the ongoing pandemic. Republicans, however, have generally followed the lead of President Trump and expressed more determination about holding a traditional in-person event in Charlotte. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel recently asked federal officials to consider providing personal protective equipment to allow the events to operate more safely.

“The president wants to go full-steam ahead,” McDaniel said. “We are full-steam ahead for in person, in Charlotte.”

Perez has criticized the protective equipment request as premature, given the ongoing shortages of protective equipment for others, including health-care workers.

“Now is not the time to focus on which political operatives get masks and gloves,” he said.

In an effort to tie the fate of their convention to the Republican event starting Aug. 24, Democrats announced last month that they would reschedule the event to start on Aug. 17, six weeks after the original July date.

The Democratic rules and bylaws committee is expected to formally accept this date change Tuesday as well. Even privately, officials were reluctant to get ahead of what health officials might ultimately advise about the later date.

“The city of Milwaukee has been an incredible partner and we couldn’t be more committed to highlighting Wisconsin as a key battleground state when we host our convention there this August,” a Democratic official said in a memo distributed to reporters.


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