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North Carolina Leadership Prepares for Virtual Gatherings

As fears of the coronavirus continue to spread nationwide, North Carolina’s Republican and Democratic party officials are taking action to limit large gatherings by switching to virtual party conventions.

by Jim Morrill, The Charlotte Observer / March 17, 2020

(TNS) — With spreading fears of the coronavirus, North Carolina’s Republican and Democratic party officials are taking action to limit large gatherings by switching to virtual party conventions.

Both parties have county conventions scheduled for this month and congressional district conventions in April. Those gatherings are the first steps in selecting delegates to the national conventions this summer.

“Right now we are working with counties (on) transferring their county conventions from physical conventions to digital conventions,” state Republican Chair Michael Whatley told The Charlotte Observer Monday.

“The bottom line is we want to move forward with a process that’s going to keep everybody in our communities safe and ensure that everybody who wants to participate in our state and national convention can do so.”

The move is the latest example of how the public health crisis is upending American politics. Two states, Louisiana and Georgia, have postponed their primaries.

Officials at both national conventions — with Republicans scheduled for Charlotte in August and Democrats for Milwaukee in July — say they’re continuing to monitor the public health situation. But at a news conference Monday, President Donald Trump suggested even those might in danger.

The president said America could be dealing with the virus until summer. “They think August, it could be July, could be longer than that,” Trump said, alluding to experts’ view of a possible timeline.

Last week North Carolina Democratic officials passed a resolution calling on larger counties, that is, counties expecting more than 100 people at their conventions, to hold “Virtual Party Conventions.” Smaller counties would have that option.

“It’s going to be like a pajama convention — you can just dial in,” said Jane Whitley, Mecklenburg Democratic chair.

That was after Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order to halt mass gatherings of 100 or more people.

But since then the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised against gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks, or until at least mid-May. North Carolina health officials have made the same recommendation.

Officials of both N.C. state parties are trying to work out details of exactly how virtual conventions would work, particularly assuming some delegates have no access to computers. Democrats, for example, are looking at some combination of online participation and dialing-in. The state party would provide appropriate software or other technology.

“The North Carolina Democratic Party is working with the Democratic National Committee and public health officials to find the best solution,” said state Democratic spokesman Robert Howard. “We are reviewing a number of options . . . but are awaiting further guidance from the DNC.”

Wayne Schaeffer, chairman of the Bladen County GOP, decided to postpone his county convention last week.

“In light of the current CDC warnings even as late as yesterday evening I thought it was prudent,” he said Monday. “The warnings coming out of the CDC are literally evolving as we speak.”

County conventions choose delegates to the districts, which in turn choose them for the state convention. That’s where delegates to the national conventions are selected.

Whatley said the GOP’s state convention in Greenville is still scheduled to start May 14, but that also could change.

Tatum Gibson, a spokeswoman for the Republican national convention, said officials “have full faith and confidence in the administration’s aggressive actions to address COVID-19.”

“We will continue to closely monitor the situation and work with all stakeholders and health authorities to ensure every necessary precaution is taken into account,” she said.

Dr. Ada Fisher, one of the N.C. GOP’s members of the Republican National Committee, said she has concerns about the inability of convention delegates to meet and interact physically. But she understands the situation.

“The circumstances of the virus are dictating that we have to change our ways on doing some things,” said Fisher, who has a master’s in public health. “That’s unfortunate. But that’s the way it is.”

©2020 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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