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National conventions look whole lot different

| August 18, 2020 1:00 AM

Whether you prefer donkeys, elephants or any other mascot when you vote, the parties’ national conventions Aug. 17-27 should interest you.

Their results, once anybody’s best guess, are mostly symbolic now. The sitting president and vice president will be nominated. Their opponents in the majority party (there are other parties’ candidates to consider) have been announced. The primaries are done and dusted.

But for the candidates, party officials and campaign enthusiasts, the conventions set a tone for how the race will be run, serving a kind of cheerleading function by rallying supporters and developing momentum for the intense experience ahead.

For each party the presidential election process begins with a primary (an election) and caucus (a meeting). Both are how states determine their nominees. Primary elections are when state citizens cast private ballots for their choice among party-affiliated candidates. Caucuses are gatherings of political party members and interested public who vote for national convention candidates and delegates.

Primaries didn’t always exist, nor was the process always open to the public. From 1796 to 1824, party members in Congress chose their president and vice president nominees in secret caucuses. State legislators did the same for governors and their lieutenants, all closed to the general public, prompting voter complaints which eventually led to the more open process we have today.

At the national conventions, presidential nominees officially announce their running mates and the nominees become the official selections representing their parties nationwide. While it’s mostly pro forma now, technically that’s not effective until convention delegates vote, one state at a time. Historically that’s been at a large, widely publicized gathering with a lot of excitement and energy, but for obvious reasons things will be a bit different this year.

According to its official website, the Republican National Convention meets in-person in Charlotte, N.C., beginning at 9 a.m. on Aug. 24 and includes six delegates from each state and territory, for a total of 336 delegates in attendance. It is closed to the press. Portions of it will be live-streamed. The official site is 2020gopconvention.com.

While based in Milwaukee, the Democratic National Convention will be remote, with speakers and delegates attending by video other than “those necessary to orchestrate the event.” It will be live-streamed nightly. The official site is Demconvention.com.

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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.