Here we go: DNC takes first step toward "virtual convention"

Not a decisive step, but also not the first signal that the traditional convention format may be toast in the Year of COVID-19. Democrats moved their four-day party from mid-July to later August in order to outlast the pandemic restrictions on public gatherings, but so far there seems to be no end in sight to the bans on large-scale events, especially indoors. If the state of Wisconsin won’t relax those restrictions before August, or if too many of the DNC’s constituents and delegates refuse to participate in what could very well turn into a mass-spread event, then the DNC had better have a Plan B in place.

Thus, the New York Times reports, members will vote on a rule change today that will allow the DNC to change the nomination process from in-person to remote, if necessary:

The Democratic National Committee on Tuesday will take its first formal step toward allowing a virtual convention, a last-resort measure that party officials have tried to avoid but that appears increasingly likely as the coronavirus’s threat persists.

The party’s rules committee will vote Tuesday on whether to give convention officials the authority to alter the event’s key processes — like switching to remote voting for delegates. …

Tuesday’s vote, which is widely expected to pass the party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, would shift authority to make decisions on issues like remote voting to officials in charge of producing the quadrennial convention. D.N.C. officials emphasized Monday that no decisions had been made about canceling any in-person elements of the convention.

That isn’t the only option on the table. If a four-day indoor event doesn’t work, Nancy Pelosi suggested having a one-day outdoor venue at a football stadium instead. As the NYT notes, however, Milwaukee doesn’t have a “gigantic stadium” for such an event, although WISN points out that Miller Park would suffice. City officials are not optimistic about the prospects for that plan, though:

The idea of transferring it to a football stadium is, to put it mildly, rather simplistic. National conventions are logistical nightmares as it is, with all sorts of security necessary to defend against potential attacks. Most of those security processes require close-quarters crowd routing that would utterly defeat any social distancing that took place in the stands themselves. Furthermore, transportation to and from the event to hotels in the area would require higher-density travel, too. Finally, thousands of people would have to get on planes to get to Milwaukee — and then turn around, after being in a potential mass-spread event, and immediately get on planes to return back to their homes.

If we had a widely available and effective vaccine by that time, and if everyone attending had to certify they’d taken it, then maybe all of this would work. Otherwise, though, such an event begs for a disaster in the two weeks following it.

The same applies, of course, to the Republican convention. There is much less need to hold that one, other than as a massive rally for its candidates, but the GOP hasn’t thrown in the towel for its Charlotte, NC event either. This weekend, the Washington Post reported on the tough decisions both parties are facing in this pandemic:

Whether to hold the quadrennial political conventions has become an increasingly fraught issue amid a pandemic that has shown few signs of slowing and has cratered the U.S. economy.

Both parties said they hope to hold in-person events — in Charlotte for Republicans and Milwaukee for Democrats — and are struggling with how to pull that off while following public health guidelines and keeping attendees safe. …

Still, three Trump advisers said the RNC and the campaign were looking at scaling back attendance in the 15,000-seat arena that will host the convention, limiting or eliminating such events as concerts or parties after the official events, or requiring guests to take particular health precautions before entering, such as having their temperatures tested or wearing a mask.

The Republican convention organizers hired a medical adviser on Thursday that might recommend “adjustments,” McDaniel said, but added it was too soon to know. One person with direct knowledge of the planning said “it is difficult to imagine a scenario where everyone is sitting right next to another person in the arena.”

If any significant restrictions remain in place by August, these conventions will become politically as well as medically unthinkable. How will the two parties explain holding a party in a massively crowded space while businesses remain restricted to only a certain percentage of capacity, for example? The very venues that might get considered as alternatives might be used by major sports leagues without fans in the seats, for another example. What happens if schools still haven’t reopened? Most restrictions may be lifted by then, but likely only with other mitigation in place, such as masks and, yes, social distancing.

The logistics of these conventions make them nearly impossible in a pandemic-mitigation environment. Given that these are just PR artifacts from a bygone age and archaic political process anyway, their retirement is almost assured at some point. This year’s as good as any to explore alternatives.

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