CEDAR RAPIDS — Instead of hanging out with about 500 of his friends Saturday, Linn County Democratic Party Chairman Bret Nilles will be practicing social distancing.
Nilles and other Democrats around Iowa were scheduled to have their county conventions where they would elect delegates to the district and state conventions. Then coronavirus happened, and the Iowa Democratic Party postponed the county conventions until “a future date.”
“Our primary concern was that the people who normally attend our conventions tend to be a little bit older, and many fall into the high-risk category,” Nilles said.
In addition to looking for a way to work within party rules to continue the process that began with the first-in-the-nation caucuses Feb. 3 and will culminate in officially nominating a candidate at the national convention July 13-16 in Milwaukee, Nilles said party leaders are looking for ways to keep people engaged.
“Things have gone pretty quiet” as attention has turned to COVID-19, he said.
The party is exploring a couple of options for county conventions, Nilles said Thursday. One would be “anything we can do virtually.”
The other could be holding the Linn County convention April 25 before the 1st District convention scheduled for that day in Cedar Rapids.
There’s no assurance the “all clear” will be issued by then, so Nilles said all plans are on hold until public health officials determine it’s safe for people to gather in large crowds. That means it’s possible district conventions will be the morning of June 13 and the state convention will be that afternoon.
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Whatever form the conventions take, “it will be something different,” said Johnson County Democratic Party Chairman Ed Cranston. For example, mail-in balloting may be an option. Like Nilles, he anticipates some rule changes may be required, but the local parties will wait for direction from the state and national parties.
Johnson County Democrats are a video conferencing to plan their Hall of Fame event and for committee meetings, Cranston said.
“We’re still meeting, we’re still getting business done, but it doesn’t make any sense to get together,” he said.
Iowa Democrats’ caucus-to-convention process is a continuum. County conventions elect delegates based on the Feb. 3 caucus results in their county. Democrats in each of Iowa’s four congressional districts will elect seven national convention delegates, and 13 more will be elected at the state convention.
Under new party rules, “all the numbers are locked in after the caucuses,” Nilles said. Previously, a candidate had to be viable — have the support of 15 percent of delegates — at the county, district and state convention to get delegates.
It doesn’t matter that all of the candidates but former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have dropped out, he explained. Their delegates are committed to vote for them on the first round of balloting. Typically, candidates who have dropped out will release their delegates after the first round.
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