The Washigtnon Post - 03.04.2020

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the coronavirus pandemic


Democrats delayed their presi-
dential nominating convention
Thursday until the week of Aug. 17
to increase the likelihood that the
party can still hold an in-person
gathering in Milwaukee amid the
coronavirus pandemic.
The decision to reschedule
from July puts the Democratic
gathering one week before the
Republican convention in Char-
lotte starting Aug. 24, which both
President Trump and Republican
National Committee Chairwom-
an Ronna McDaniel pledged re-
cently will go f orward.
Trump said last week that there
was “no way” his convention
would be canceled, and McDaniel
said that planning for a “full seat-
ed” convention was moving “full
steam ahead.” But Democrats
have taken a far more cautious
approach, in part because their
convention was originally sched-
uled six weeks earlier in the sum-
mer to accommodate the Summer
Olympics, which have since been
“In our current climate of un-
certainty, we believe the smartest
approach is to take additional
time to monitor h ow this situation
unfolds so we can best position
our party for a safe and successful
convention,” J oe Solmonese, CEO
of the Democratic National Con-
vention Committee, said in a
statement Thursday.
Former vice president Joe
Biden, who is leading in delegates
for the nomination, made clear
this week that he welcomed a
“I think it’s going to have to
move into August,” Biden said
Wednesday on “The To night Show
Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
The postponement is only the
latest sign of a presidential con-
test upended by the coronavirus,
which has killed more than
50,000 people worldwide and
more than 5,600 in the United

States, and cost Americans mil-
lions o f jobs.
Several states that had planned
to vote in late March or April
postponed their primaries, ex-
tending the end of the nominating
season — and the determination
of a winner — well into June,
potentially costing the party
months of general election orga-
When it comes to the summer
conventions, Democrats had wor-
ried that their event would be
canceled but that the Republican
one would still be able to go for-
ward, delivering Trump a clear
advantage in the televised specta-
cle that marks the start of the
general election.
By tradition, the party t hat does
not hold the White House goes
first in the nominating contest.
Both parties depend on live media
coverage of the events, p articular-
ly by broadcast networks, to rein-
troduce their candidates and
campaign themes before the final
sprint to the election.
Democratic officials said the
August event would still be sub-
ject to the recommendations of
federal and state health officials,
who have signaled that they are
waiting for data on the course of
the coronavirus pandemic.
“When it goes down to essen-
tially no new cases, no deaths at a
period of time, I think it makes
sense that you’re going to have to
relax social distancing,” the na-
tion’s top infectious disease ex-
pert, Anthony S. Fauci, said this
week when asked about the sum-
mer conventions.
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), a
co-chair of the convention host
committee, said she spoke with
Democratic Chairman Tom Perez
last month, shortly after the first
case of covid-19 was diagnosed in
the state.
“I said to him that my third-
grade teacher told me that the
biological definition of survival
was the ability to adapt t o change,”
Moore said in an interview Thurs-
day. “We are going to be re-envi-
sioning different kind of spaces.
For example, the convening of the
Rules Committee — that might
have to be a much b igger venue so

Democrats push back

convention t o August

that people can space themselves
appropriately. There might have
to be rules around microphones
so that everyone will be clean.”
Democratic convention orga-
nizers have spent the past two
weeks working on c ontingency
plans for the convention, explor-
ing virtual voting options and a
new schedule. Major contracts for
a July convention were due to be
signed in the coming weeks, put-
ting pressure on organizers to
make a decision.
Both national party and local
officials have tried to emphasize a
commitment to holding the event
in Wisconsin, a key battleground
state that Democrats lost in 2016.
“The convention team is totally
focused on accomplishing two
goals, which are protecting the
health and safety o f Wisconsinites
and making sure we launch the
Democratic nominee in a way that
is unmistakably Wisconsin,” Wis-
consin Democratic Party Chair
Ben Wikler said Wednesday.
A person familiar with the Re-

publican deliberations said
Wednesday that the president re-
mained determined to go f orward
with his convention and that
many donors to the event think
the coronavirus is less of a con-
cern, because they are not in plac-
es that are currently affected by it.
But a fully virtual convention,
or one with far fewer people than
normal, is still a real possibility for
both parties, which have recently
taken steps to allow for voting
delays and virtual meetings as the
nomination process moves for-
ward. Local health officials in
Wisconsin and North Carolina a re
likely to be wary of a large influx of
out-of-state travelers if the pan-
demic i s still spreading.
“You go to a swing state, which
both of these are, you don’t want
to leave them with 10,000 cases of
covid-19,” f ormer Democratic Par-
ty chairman Howard Dean said.
“You just may not be able to have
20,000 or 30,000 or 40,000 peo-
Democratic committee mem-

bers believe that an electronic vot-
ing system for the nearly 4,
delegates would be far m ore man-
ageable than the problematic
electronic system that marred the
Iowa caucuses. Unlike a regular
election, votes at the convention
are cast publicly, so they are easier
to verify after the fact. Only five
votes must be held — three for
committee reports, one for the
presidential nominee and one for
the vice p residential nominee.
The original plans for the Mil-
waukee convention presumed
that as many as 50,000 people
from around the country would
come to the city, including about
15,000 journalists and nearly
4,000 party delegates. The city’s
original bid identified 15,000 ho-
tel rooms and 500 buses that
could be used for the four-day
Concern in the state has grown,
however, as the coronavirus has
spread throughout the country,
leading to stay-at-home orders for
most Americans.

A poll by Marquette University
last week found that 62 percent of
Wisconsin voters did not want the
convention to move forward as an
in-person event. That i ncluded 69
percent of Democrats, 62 percent
of independents and 55 percent of
But there is concern in both
parties that any switch to a virtual
convention, without a live event
for reporters to cover in person,
will lower the network interest in
covering the spectacles and limit
their r each.
“The less newsworthy they be-
come, the less coverages there is.
And events are newsworthy,” said
Erik Smith, a Democratic consul-
tant who helped plan his party’s
last three events.
“The truth is this is not some-
thing that people are going to
walk away f rom easily.”

Josh dawsey contributed to this

darren hauck For the washington post
The Democratic Party rescheduled its presidential nominating convention in Milwaukee from July to the week of Aug. 17. A poll last week
by Marquette University found that 6 2 percent of Wisconsin voters didn’t want the convention to move forward as an in-person event.

contest, but former vice president
Joe Biden t old r eporters Thursday
that the question is “for the Wis-
consin courts and folks to decide,”
adding that he thinks it’s possible
to hold an election during the
pandemic with more mail-in bal-
Voting-rights a ctivists and local
election administrators in Wis-
consin painted a dire portrait of

the risk of infection to poll work-
ers and voters, saying how diffi-
cult it would be to administer
elections under those circum-
More than 100 municipalities
reported not having enough poll
workers to open a single voting
location. State officials predicted
that tens of thousands of voters
who have flooded election offices
with mail-ballot requests in recent

days were at risk of not receiving
them on time.
Scott McDonell, the Dane
County clerk, who spent Thursday
distributing to city and town elec-
tion officials masks, gloves and
“170 proof” s anitizer c ooked up b y
a local distillery, said his biggest
concern is the likely spread of the
virus on Tuesday. N ew p rojections
place April 7 near the peak of

Wisconsin’s coronavirus out-
“I agree with the judge that it’s
extremely dangerous for us to go
forward with an election right as
this pandemic is accelerating,”
McDonell said. “But that’s what’s
going to happen, so we’re plan-
ning the best we can right now to
make it work on Tuesday.”
Leaders in the Republican-con-
trolled legislature argued that

moving the voting date so late in
the process would sow confusion
and c reate a leadership vacuum in
cities and towns holding contests
for municipal posts that will be
vacant a s early as mid-April.
Voting rights groups turned to
the federal courts for interven-
tion, supported by national Demo-
crats and some county clerks in
the state. National Republicans

are helping defend the decision to
go f orward with v oting next week.
A lawyer for the Republican
National Committee and the Wis-
consin Republican Party, Patrick
Strawbridge, filed a notice of ap-
peal soon after Conley issued his
opinion. The Republican legisla-
ture filed a n appeal Thursday, t oo.
“It is unprecedented to allow
votes to be cast after Election Day
has already occurred, and we are


A federal judge on Thursday
declined to postpone Wisconsin’s
scheduled April 7 presidential p ri-
maries amid widespread worries
that holding elections during the
coronavirus pandemic could risk
public health a nd curtail access to
the p olls.
The ruling from U.S. District
Judge William M. Conley means
Wisconsin will remain the only
one of 11 states originally sched-
uled to hold contests in April that
has n ot postponed o r dramatically
altered voting a mid t he pandemic.
However, in a 53-page ruling,
Conley extended the deadline for
absentee ballots to be requested
by voters f rom Thursday to Friday,
and extended the deadline for
completed ballots to be received
by local election officials by six
days: from 8 p.m. on April 7 to 4
p.m. on April 13.
He also prohibited the state
from enforcing the requirement
that absentee ballot envelopes
bear a witness signature when vot-
ers include a statement that they
were unable to obtain one safely.
Conley made clear that he dis-
agreed with the state’s decision to
go forward with the election, but
he explained that he was con-
strained to consider only the con-
stitutional rights of voters — not
public health.
“Without doubt, the April 7
election day will create unprece-
dented burdens not just for aspir-
ing voters, but also for poll work-
ers, clerks, and indeed the state,”
Conley wrote. “A s much as the
court would prefer that the Wis-
consin Legislature and Governor
consider the public health ahead
of any political considerations,
that does not appear in the cards.
Nor is it appropriate for a federal-
district court to act as the state’s
chief health official by taking that
step for them.”
Conley also reserved the right
to judge that voters’ rights have
been infringed — something that
he said could not be a ssessed until
Election D ay.
It is unclear what action he
would take if he concluded that, as
he wrote, “the actual voter turn-
out, ability to vote on election day
or overall conduct of the election
and counting votes timely has un-
dermined citizens’ right t o vote.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Ver-
mont) this week urged state offi-
cials this week to postpone the

appealing the judge’s decision in
order to uphold the integrity of
our elections,” RNC national press
secretary Mandi Merritt said in a
The power to delay an election
in Wisconsin lies with the legisla-
ture, but Scott L. Fitzgerald, the
Republican majority leader in the
Senate, and the Republican state
House speaker, Robin Vos, noted
that Gov. Tony Evers (D) did not
push to postpone Tuesday’s vote,
“If I could have changed the
election on my own I would have
but I can’t without violating state
law,” the governor said in a state-
ment Wednesday night. “I’ve
asked the legislature to do its part
to ensure a fair and safe election
and I hope we can get some clarity
as soon a s possible.”
Evers announced Wednesday
that he will deploy the Wisconsin
National Guard to help staff poll-
ing locations with sharp deficits of
At a news conference Wednes-
day, Vos said he plans to volunteer
at the polls on Tuesday, and en-
couraged others to do the same.
“I feel safe being there because
of the safeguards being put in
place by local governments and
the Wisconsin Elections Commis-
sion,” Vos said. “If you’re bored at
home and sick of w atching N etflix,
volunteer to go and help at the
Evers had previously asked for
mail ballots to be sent to every
registered v oter. He a lso asked t he
legislature to lift photo ID require-
ments for mail-in voters, extend
in-person early voting through the
final weekend before the election
and move back the deadlines for
returning absentee ballots, as well
as counting them. The legislature
had r ejected his requests.
“In the absence of the Legisla-
ture doing its part to ensure a fair
and s afe e lection, I appreciate that
the court chose to implement
some of the common-sense solu-
tions that I’ve been advocating
for,” t he governor said in a state-
ment Thursday. “It’s great news
that Wisconsinites will have more
time to request and submit a bal-
lot and that clerks will have more
time to count b allots. I continue to
encourage every Wisconsinite to
request their absentee ballot and
vote safely from home.”

Matt Viser contributed to this report.

Federal judge declines to delay Wis. primaries, set for Tuesday

rick wood/Milwaukee Journal-sentinel/associated press
Katherine Katsekes, left, and Diane Scott sort absentee ballots in Brookfield, Wis. The judge’s ruling
extended the deadline for absentee ballots to be requested and for completed ballots to be returned.

“I agree with the judge that it’s extremely dangerous for us to go forward with

an election... But that’s what’s going to happen, so we’re planning the best

we can right now to make it work on Tuesday.”
scott Mcdonell, dane county clerk
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