Virtual party congresses in the USA – a real prospect

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Virtual party congresses in the USA - a real prospect

So far, both Republicans and Democrats are preparing for traditional congresses, but the situation in connection with the coronavirus may force them to change the format

WASHINGTON – If the coronavirus pandemic leads to the cancellation or rescheduling of large-scale events this summer, then congresses of American political parties may become victims of a new lifestyle – part of the political culture of the United States.

Instead of a four-day festival, when the sports and entertainment complex is filled with spectators, the virtual congress will bring together thousands of delegates from all 50 states and American territories who will vote on a variety of issues – from party rules to presidential elections – using a platform like Zoom.

Currently, two major parties plan to hold congresses in mid-late August. Democrats will gather in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and then Republicans will gather in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Joe Biden, who, by all indications, will be approved by the Democratic presidential candidate, has hinted that the party may choose the option of a virtual congress if the pandemic continues to rage. In turn, President Donald Trump emphasized that the Republicans would come together to nominate him for a second term.

It is not yet possible to predict how the situation with congresses will develop, therefore politicians and political scientists are actively discussing what a virtual congress might look like.

“There are two aspects here – legal and political,” says Elaine Kamark, a member of the National Committee of the Democratic Party and director of the Center for Effective Public Administration.

According to her, to include a candidate on ballots in all states, a roll-call vote of delegates is needed.

“Therefore, from a legal point of view, a congress needs to be held,” she says.

And from the political?

“[Party congresses] are big celebrations that bring party-minded people around the candidate and charge them for the fall campaign,” said Lara Brown, director of the School of Political Management at George Washington University.

Organization of a virtual congress

Brown believes that a virtual congress should include at least three aspects.

“There should be a single, secure platform through which delegates could vote, and another platform to activate the participants. Then, I think, we need a third-platform related to the production of this show. ”

Congress centers with thousands of participants who have historically provided television companies with a ready-made backdrop and, at times, drama. How will the virtual congress be broadcast to a television audience? In fact, you need to create the illusion of a lively meeting with balloons and posters and enhance it with the magic of television.

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“I’m not sure that a television show without 20 thousand participants in a sports and entertainment complex will be worse than what we usually have,” says Kamark.

“It will probably be a very difficult show. And, probably, no one knows better how to create it than large television companies that engage in live events like Super Bowl, ”says Brown.

She believes that the platform chosen for the show may be intertwined with the platform for civic participation.

“Maybe we’ll see something like TV shows like Dancing with the Stars when viewers vote using their phone and send their voices with text messages,” says Brown.

And if the coronavirus pandemic allows people to gather in small groups, then it represents how delegates throw home parties, which she calls a “nationwide meeting of interests.”

Virtual or traditional congress?

Former Vice President Joe Biden proposed the idea of ​​a virtual convention in early April, a few days after the Democrats moved the congress dates to Milwaukee from July 13-16 to August 17-20. Thus, their congress will be held a week before the congress of the Republicans on August 24-27.

Trump ridiculed Biden’s proposal for a virtual congress. Republican and Democratic Party chairpersons recently announced that preparations for a traditional, in-person congress are ongoing.

If circumstances force them to abandon these plans, Brown says she is interested in seeing which party will be able to hold the best virtual congress.

“We have been watching the national congresses of parties for years. They know how best to attract attention and inspire party members, ”she says. “But this time it will be a whole new world.” What this means in terms of creativity and ingenuity is still unknown. Perhaps each party will have its own characteristics if they go along this path. ”

Kamark notes that the final decision on the form of the congress does not necessarily rest with the party.

“In reality, we are in a very difficult situation. There will be people in Milwaukee who do not want to work at the congress. There will be people in Charlotte who will not want to work at the congress. In both cities there will be people who will not be happy to see 20-30 thousand people from all over the country, ”she explains.