Officials at the Democratic National Committee have begun to plan for the possibility that their July convention in Milwaukee may be scuttled or dramatically upended because of the spread of 2019 novel coronavirus, multiple sources tell The Daily Beast.
Discussions over what to do if coronavirus makes it difficult, if not impossible, for delegates and the public to come to the convention have been mostly informal up until this week. But two top Democrats said they expected far more serious planning to begin in haste as infections and deaths accumulate and experts warn the virus will spread in the United States and, potentially, seriously disrupt travel and commerce. On Monday, state party chairs raised concerns on a conference call with DNC officials that party functions, including the election of delegates to the national convention, could be disrupted or delayed because of coronavirus fears.
“It is serious. The question for state chairs is, look, we all have to put on conventions coming up. Most of the delegates to the national convention are elected at [state] conventions. What happens if state parties have to cancel these events where delegates are elected?” said Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and a Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee. “If things continue to evolve, It could dramatically alter the contest and severely hamper Democrats as we try to unify our party.”
Martin told The Daily Beast Democrats were already seeing ripple effects of the coronavirus in their operations. The Washington State Democratic Party, he said, was cancelling a big fundraising dinner they had scheduled for this Saturday because of the virus’ spread in the state, where it has killed at least six and infected 18. The Washington State Democratic Party did not return a request for comment.
The national party has not yet taken such measures. But in a statement to The Daily Beast, Joe Solmonese, CEO of the 2020 Democratic National Convention Committee, said contingency plans were being entertained for Milwaukee.
“Ensuring the safety of convention attendees and local residents is—and will always remain—our top priority,” said Solmonese. “Every convention necessitates developing a number of contingency plans to provide for a variety of scenarios. As we prepare to welcome Americans to Milwaukee this summer, the convention team will remain in constant communication with the local, state, and federal authorities responsible for protecting public health and security. We will continue to monitor this developing situation closely and follow the guidance of the CDC and state and local health officials in the days and weeks ahead.”
Convention planning is a laborious process, involving months, if not years, of preparation. It also represents a massive infusion of people into urban areas, and then into packed venues. In 2016, an estimated 50,000 people came to Philadelphia to partake in and witness the nomination of Hillary Clinton.
Similar numbers are anticipated for Milwaukee when Democrats are set to gather from July 13 through 16. But as coronavirus has spread and travel restrictions seem likely to be intensified, top officials are wondering whether attendees will or should make it.
The result could be a convention that is not just sparsely attended but one where the act of formally nominating a presidential candidate is thrown into disorder. Such a scenario could be especially chaotic if no one candidate enters Milwaukee with a majority of delegates and those same delegates are forced to stay away from the convention site.
According to several top officials, the DNC’s charter and bylaws leave little ambiguity when it comes to the requirement that delegates be physically on site in order to cast their votes. Under Section 11, it states that “Voting by proxy shall not be permitted at the National Convention. Voting by proxy shall otherwise be permitted in Democratic Party affairs only as provided in the Bylaws of the Democratic Party.”
Among the topics being discussed by DNC officials now is what to do about the rules if delegates cannot get to Milwaukee, are spooked into not attending, or are being advised to avoid going entirely. The actual solution, officials say, is not all that complicated: The convention, by way of its Standing Committee on Rules, can change the bylaws to make it so that proxy voting or—more likely—remote voting is allowable.
“If there is an emergency like this and there is broad consensus,” Simon Rosenberg, a longtime Democratic official who previously ran for DNC Chair, told The Daily Beast. “Yes, the rules can be easily changed. These things are very flexible.”
The issue, then, is how to build such a system into the nomination process. One official said they expected discussions in the coming days and weeks to center around whether there would be software fixes that the committee could adopt that would allow for remote voting for delegates. So far this cycle, the party has had slightly less than confidence-boosting results when it comes to the use of software to count votes.