Questions hang over Democrats’ shift to virtual convention

In a world without the coronavirus pandemic, the Democratic National Convention would have been gaveled into session on Monday, with thousands of delegates, party leaders, politicians, spectators and media packed into the Fiserv Forum arena in Milwaukee.

But that obviously isn’t happening.

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As the coronavirus swept the nation this spring, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) moved back the date of its quadrennial presidential nominating convention a month – to Aug. 17.

And, last month the DNC and the campaign of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced that they were scaling back their traditional in-person convention to a mostly virtual confab – and that they were downscaling from the arena to a much smaller convention center nearby. Their moves came as public health officials continued to discouraged large crowds in order to limit the spread of the virus.

With one month to go until the convention kicks off, the party has unveiled how the nearly 4,000 delegates – the vast majority of whom won’t be attending the event in person – will vote. But still up in the air is whether each delegation will meet in person or virtually in their own states.

“We have not made specific plans yet as we haven’t received guidance from the convention committee,” longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley told Fox News. “There are limitless possibilities being discussed but until we hear from the convention committee we can’t make any definitive plans.”

Buckley – who’s also served on the DNC’s executive committee for 19 years – highlighted the advantages to holding his state delegation’s gathering online.

“Having a virtual convention it opens up the opportunities for more people to participate. Our May 9th state convention has been watched by more than ten times the number of folks that usually attend,” he said.

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While the question of whether state delegations meet in person or online is still up in the air, how they’ll vote has been determined.

Democratic officials organizing the convention on Friday announced to the state parties and delegates that there will be two weeks of virtual voting from Aug. 3-15 leading up to the convention. Each delegate will receive a ballot specific to them. The delegates are instructed to send completed ballots – which contain questions on the party’s platform and nominee – to their state’s Democratic Party. After receiving all of their ballots, state delegations are instructed to send those ballots onto the national party. The votes will be counted all at once, on Aug. 15.

The Biden campaign as well as the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont – the runner-up in the delegate count – plan to host webinars this month with their delegates to go over the new rules.

The DNC’s letter announcing the rules noted that amid the pandemic, the party “has developed a voting system that will allow convention delegates to safely and securely cast ballots for all required votes. Each delegate will be sent an individualized ballot with unique identifiers via email.”

The virtual voting all but guarantees that past in-person disagreements over the party’s platform will not occur in Milwaukee.

With the vast majority of the delegates not attending the convention in person, their ability to share their stories and mingle with other Democrats from across the country will be severely impeded. To try and remedy the situation, convention planners are setting up a “content hub” for delegates “share their stories and engage with their fellow delegates.”

Organizers will encourage delegates to tell their stories through videos that they can upload.

Even though most of the convention will be held virtually, the former vice president is still planning on accepting his party’s presidential nomination in person on the final night.

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Democratic convention spokesperson Ofirah Yheskel emphasized that her party “is demonstrating the smart and steady leadership America deserves by updating plans to ensure that every delegate can play their critical role in this historic occasion without risk to personal or public health.”

The Democratic convention stands in contrast to that of the GOP – which still is moving forward with an in-person gathering.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) last month chose Jacksonville, Fla., to host major portions of their convention, after largely abandoning the city of Charlotte, N.C., over disagreements on coronavirus-related crowd restrictions.

President Trump and Republican officials were angered after Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, a Democrat, said that because of the pandemic he wasn’t prepared to guarantee the RNC a full-fledged convention with an arena packed full of party officials, delegates and activists as desired by Trump. Some business aspects of the convention, however, will still be held in Charlotte.

But with new cases of the coronavirus surging in Florida in recent weeks, Republican officials are now considering moving the celebratory parts of the Republican National Convention from the planned indoor area to nearby outdoor venues.

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