Tuesday, May 12, 2020

DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee Moves Toward Taking the National Convention Virtual

The Democratic National Committee Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) met via conference call on Tuesday, May 12 to consider a number of issues raised by coronavirus pandemic.

Most of the actions taken had been telegraphed before the meeting, but there remained some interesting questions brought up during the meeting in response to some of the agenda items. The easiest hurdles to clear came from state parties' reactions to the public health crisis and its impact on the electoral and delegate selection processes there.

Several states have moved since mid-March to points on the primary calendar beyond what is allowed under DNC rules. Decision makers in Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey and New York all settled on dates beyond the June 9 cut off established in the rules.1 And all of those states but Connecticut had waiver requests before the RBC today. All were unanimously approved.

Beyond that thumbs up on the state-level changes before them today, RBC co-chair, Jim Roosevelt, also revealed that the delegate apportionment to states would remain the same. States will not receive any further bonus delegates for moves to later dates on the calendar, and as of now, the above states either have received waivers that allows them to skirt any penalties from rules violations or are in discussions with the RBC about their respective situations. Connecticut Democrats fall into the latter category and are between a rock and a hard place with the August 11 primary date state government decision makers landed on falling just a few days before the convention is set to start. That is another state party that will eventually have to bring delegate selection plan changes before the RBC in the near future. Puerto Rico Democrats face the same dilemma. The primary in the US territory was indefinitely postponed in April but the party is eyeing a July 5 or 12 primary date that would also require a waiver from the RBC.

But the bigger items on the RBC's agenda dealt with the national convention. The committee unanimously passed resolutions to allow state parties to use virtual means to complete their delegate selection processes as long as that did not include primaries or precinct caucuses. Then, however, the body moved on to a more encompassing resolution on convention procedure. There were a couple of main aims that the the RBC was targeting. First, given the public health crisis, the RBC members were concerned with the safety of delegates able to attend the convention in Milwaukee but also the citizens of the city as well. But second, the committee also sought to conduct the business of the convention under the circumstances that the coronavirus has created. Both meant that the RBC had to make changes to the rules where there is no contingency for such conditions.

The resolution attempts to address those twin issues. Procedurally, it allows the convention Rules and Credentials Committees to be the sole arbiters of their respective reports. They will not go before the full convention unless there is a minority report issued as well. That provision did raise some concerns with several members of the committee who were concerned about that (minority report) outlet and what would constitute a passing vote in the committee or on the floor. Would it be a simple majority of those present or a majority of all of the total number of delegates? The distinction matters, especially in the context of a convention that may see some delegates in person in an arena in Milwaukee and some at home. The tentative conclusion was that at past conventions, it had been the simple majority.

And while all of that may get too far into the weeds of convention process, it does matter. More broadly, the resolution also granted the DNC the flexibility to allow the participation of some delegates from afar.

That measure unanimously passed the RBC but has to go before the full DNC for approval before it takes effect.

1 New York Democrats are in limbo to some extent with their primary. The decision to reinstate the June 23 Democratic presidential primary in the Empire state is being appealed to the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and any changes made in the wake of that decision could push the New York Democratic Party back before the RBC in the coming days if any cancelation forces further changes to the amended delegate selection plan.

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