Democrats set to take next steps toward virtual convention

MILWAUKEE -- Democrats are making new moves toward a virtual presidential nominating convention this August, with party officials preparing to grant convention organizers in Milwaukee the authority to design an event that won’t require delegates to attend in person amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A top party official discussed the plans ahead of Tuesday’s virtual meeting of the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss moves that still require approval by the committee and the DNC’s 447 members.

The influential Rules & Bylaws panel will start the process with a resolution that grants “maximum flexibility” to the convention organizing committee to set up a gathering that “guarantees every delegate can accomplish their official business without putting their own health at risk.” That will include finalizing convention dates — which now are set only as “the week of Aug. 17” — and determining “format, voting mechanisms, structure and other logistical aspects of the convention.”

The expected action underscores how deeply COVID-19 has upended the 2020 presidential election, potentially forcing one or both major parties to dramatically alter their conventions in ways that not even the Civil War required in 1864. And it raises the possibility even further that Joe Biden will be nominated as his party’s standard-bearer without the traditional roll call vote from thousands of delegates across 57 U.S. state and territories.

The resolution also would allow two of the most high-profile convention committees — the Rules Committee and the Credentials Committee — to conduct business without having to have their final reports approved by the full convention, a maneuver that could minimize some floor fight.

All convention delegates still will get to vote on the party platform.

DNC members will vote on the resolution by mail ballot. If it gets final approval, the resolution effectively would prevent national party officials from having to convene again ahead of the convention to approve any atypical convention protocols.

Party Chairman Tom Perez had previously announced a delay of the convention, pushing it back from July 13-16 to mid-August, the week before Republicans are set to gather in Charlotte, North Carolina. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has left open the possibility of changes in the GOP convention, as well, though President Donald Trump has made clear his eagerness for the 2020 campaign to return to normal even as the coronavirus spreads.

The committee is also expected to approve waivers for states that have postponed presidential primaries beyond the deadline of June 9. Many states postponed their primaries because of the pandemic. Five states delayed them until after the deadline spelled out in party rules. Kentucky and New York postponed their primaries until June 23, while Delaware and New Jersey are scheduled to vote July 7, and Louisiana is scheduled to hold its primary July 11.

Without the waivers, the states could lose half their delegates to the party’s national convention.

Biden is already the party’s presumptive nominee, now that he is the only candidate still running. With all the postponements, he has had to wait to compile the delegates necessary to win on the first convention ballot. Biden is now likely to clear that threshold in June.

The Democrats’ latest moves come as the Biden campaign continues negotiations with representatives from the campaign of Bernie Sanders, Biden’s last remaining rival, on various details about the party’s rules and platform. The two camps already have hammered out a deal on how to allocate delegates, so Sanders doesn’t lose delegates he’d earned before dropping out.

The candidates’ representatives are hammering out policy agreements as they try to avoid the kind of bitter platform fight that could splinter the Democratic general election coalition, as happened four years ago when some of Sanders’ supporters never fully coalesced behind nominee Hillary Clinton.