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Joe Biden speaking at the 2008 Democratic National Convention

What Would a Virtual Democratic National Convention Look Like?

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By Robin Zabiegalski

Last week, the Democratic National Committee announced that this year's Democratic National Convention would be postponed until mid-August because of the coronavirus pandemic. The convention was originally scheduled to take place in mid-July in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The DNC decided to postpone since there were no indications that the coronavirus pandemic would be manageable by then. They also announced that they would be exploring alternative ways to host the convention, though they didn't give any details as to what that could mean.

A Virtual Convention?

Person working from home and FaceTiming with a coworker
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People who have been involved in putting on the Democratic National Convention in the past said that it's theoretically possible to hold a virtual convention. They said that all the speeches could easily be live-streamed on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or IGTV.

The hardest part, according to these experts, would be holding the delegate voting. During the convention, the delegates won from each state cast their votes for the candidates they represent. This is how the nominee is officially picked. Organizing a large-scale vote like this would be difficult over virtual platforms.

Delegate Voting at the Democratic National Convention

Massachusetts Delegates at the Democratic National Convention
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The delegate voting is the central feature and function of the Democratic National Convention. The delegates represent the votes that each candidate won in a state. Some states allocate all their delegates to the candidate that wins the state. Most split their delegates among the candidates based on the percentage of votes they won.

At the convention, the delegates from each state pledge their votes to their candidate. This is done state by state. The state is called, a representative steps forward and announces how many delegates are being pledged to which candidate. If the state was split, another representative comes forward and announces how many delegates they're pledging to their candidate.

The delegate votes are all counted, and if one candidate has 1,991 then they are the official nominee. If neither delegate has 1,991, the delegates vote again until one candidate has 1,991.

When the convention is in person, as it's always been in the past, this process is televised and takes quite some time.

Could Remote Delegate Voting Work?

Hillary Clinton supporters at the 2016 Democratic National Convention
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Though organizing remote delegate voting would be a monumental task, it is possible. There are several video conferencing services that allow for thousands of participants in a single meeting. The Democratic National Committee could hold a video conference for each state where the delegates would pledge their votes to their candidate.

The issue would be finding a way to make this viewable to the public. Delegate voting has been televised at past conventions, and the public should be able to see it happen. The DNC could live stream the video conference of the delegate voting, but this would obviously need a lot of planning.

So, the short answer is remote voting could work. Whether it's actually logistically feasible is unknown at this point.

Biden Calls for a Virtual Convention

Joe Biden speaking at the Democratic National Convention
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The decision to postpone the Democratic National Convention came shortly after candidate and former Vice-President Joe Biden called for the convention to be postponed. On Sunday, Biden also suggested that the convention should be virtual no matter when it's held.

He told ABC's, George Stephanopoulos, "Well, we're going to have to do a convention. We may have to do a virtual convention. I think we should be thinking about that right now... We may not be able to put 10, 20, 30,000 people in one place and that's very possible. Again let's see where it is -- and what we do between now and then is going to dictate a lot of that as well. But my point is that I think you just got to follow the science."

Whether the Democratic National Committee will explore holding the convention virtually remains to be seen. They'll need to get started soon if that's their plan.

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