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Political Parties Consider the Possibility of Online Conventions


    Sporting events and other large public gatherings have been cancelled in the United States because of the COVID-19 spread. Could the country’s political party nominating meetings be next? The Republican and Democratic parties were to hold their conventions in August to choose their candidates for president. Some people are wondering if the events should be virtual instead.

    A virtual convention would connect thousands of delegates from all 50 states and U.S. territories. Those attending could vote on everything from political party rules to presidential nominees – all using social media tools.

    Currently, the Democrats are to gather over three days in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, beginning August 17. The Republicans plan to gather in Charlotte, North Carolina, a week later.

    Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the 11th Democratic candidates debate of the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign, held in CNN's Washington studios.
    Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the 11th Democratic candidates debate of the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign, held in CNN's Washington studios.

    Expected Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has suggested that his party may decide to hold a virtual convention if the pandemic continues. President Donald Trump has forcefully said that his party would physically gather to nominate him for a second term.

    Politicians and political experts are intensely speculating on what a virtual convention might look like.

    “There’s two aspects to this. There’s the legal and the political,” says Elaine Kamarck. She is a member of the Democratic National Committee and Director of the Center for Effective Public Management. She said the public vote for the nominee “is the way that a presidential candidate gets on the ballots in all the states. So legally, you have to have a convention.”

    Conventions bring together party members and “...unify the party around the nominee, [and] get them excited about the fall campaign,” said Lara Brown. She is director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University in Washington D.C.

    Brown believes a virtual convention needs to involve at least three different platforms. “There needs to be one secure platform for the delegates to be able to cast their votes,” she said. Another kind of platform is needed to get people involved. “Then…there needs to be a third platform that is about the production, the production of the show,” she said.

    Convention centers filled with thousands of party members have historically provided television networks with exciting pictures and interesting stories. How would a virtual convention appear to Americans watching TV? It would have to be done by creating the illusion of a busy convention with balloons, messages and events through the magic of television.

    “I'm not sure that producing a TV show without 20,000 people in an arena is going to be any worse than what we traditionally have,” Kamarck said.

    And if the spread of the coronavirus eases enough to permit small gatherings, she sees delegates holding house parties that she called “a nationwide meetup.”

    Chairpersons of the Republican and Democratic parties recently said plans for normal conventions are going ahead.

    But if conditions change, Brown is interested to see which party produces a better virtual experience. “…This would be a whole new world. And what that means in terms of the creativity and the ingenuity is really an unknown.” She said a virtual convention might help one party more than the other.

    Kamarck notes the final decision on how to hold the convention is not completely in the parties’ control. She said, if current conditions continue, people in both cities might not want to work at the conventions. “There will be people in both cities who do not look forward to having 20 to 30 thousand people from all over the country,” Kamarck observed.

    I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.

    Steve Redisch reported this story for VOANEWS. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    virtual –adj. existing on computers or the internet rather than in real life

    speculating –v. to form ideas about something with little information about it

    aspect(s) –n. part of something

    platform(s) –n. a technological way of spreading information such as a social media platform or a video conferencing application

    illusion –n. something that looks or seems different from what it is

    arena –n. a large building for sports or meetings

    ingenuity –n. skill or ability that permits people to solve problems