How Have Other State GOPs Run Conventions in a Pandemic?

If you’re a Virginia Republican who is feeling “fatigued,” you’d be excused for banging your head against a wall saying, “There’s got to be a better way!” (See “Virginia Has Been ‘Fatigued’ By Conventions For Years.”)

You’d be correct. In fact, there are 49 other better ways.

Virginia is the only state Republican Party dealing with this absurdity.

Read that again. If you were a Republican in any other state, you might have issues with your state party Chairman calling for secession, but you wouldn’t have to worry that they can’t even figure out how to nominate their candidates.

So while the State Central Committee (SCC) and Districts and Units are still figuring out the finer details of how to vote, let’s go around the nation and explore how other state GOPs handled this issue in the past year.

Republicans in 45+ states

They held a primary.

Republicans in states as big as Florida and as small as Wyoming use primaries. Republicans in blue states like Vermont and New Jersey use primaries. Republicans in red states like Oklahoma and West Virginia use primaries.

Of course, all state parties have conventions for party offices, resolutions, and more. But few states use conventions to also select nominees.

(Note 1: In several states, you can also use a convention to bypass signature requirements, but this just puts you on the primary ballot. Note 2: Iowa uses primaries, but if no candidate gets more than 35 percent of the vote, the top vote getters go to a convention. This is a rare occurrence.)

In the very few states where conventions are used, they’re always used, which means there’s not a decision to make or a fight to be had. This also means that there’s no opportunity for corruption by having SCC members who favor (or are paid by) certain candidates to manipulate the rules for a strategic advantage.

Year after year, Republican activists across the country come to Virginia to work or volunteer in our off-cycle elections, and are astonished with how much time and energy is spent on intraparty fighting on this ridiculous issue.

So in the small handful of states that held nominating conventions during a pandemic, let’s see how they did it.

Indiana Republicans

We’ll start in the Hoosier state. By state law, nominations for every office, including federal and state legislature, are determined by a primary. The exceptions are a handful of statewide offices: Auditor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, and Attorney General. These are determined by a convention.

Indiana Republicans held a convention to select a nominee for Attorney General in June, 2020. This date is notable because it was in the middle of the pandemic but it was before the November elections. Here’s why that’s important:

Indiana Republicans used mail-in voting.

Back in summer 2020, mail-in voting was still acceptable to Republicans, for good reason. It was widely used for years without incident in many states, and it is a simple, cost-effective way to allow Republicans to vote without the hassle of arranging the logistics of an in-person convention.

Delegates to the convention would watch the candidate speeches on TV and all the other fanfare of a convention, then they’d fill out their ballot, put it in the mail, and vote. By any and all accounts, this process worked great. Votes were tallied and a nominee was chosen.

Rating: 10/10, would recommend again.

Of course, that was then. It would be a cold day in hell before Republicans ever consider voting by mail, due to the central role mail ballots played in the baseless allegations of “fraud” in wishing away President Trump’s defeat and his subsequent lie that the election was stolen.

Now, thanks to Trump’s claims, using vote-by-mail for a convention would be as popular as holding a convention at an abortion clinic. Republican legislators across the country are working feverishly to limit or abolish vote-by-mail, despite the fact that the laws they are overturning were passed by Republicans in the first place (back when vote-by-mail was still acceptable).

In any event, there are no lessons to learn from the way the Indiana GOP successfully handled a convention during a pandemic, since any vote-by-mail option would be DOA.

Utah Republicans

Utah is the only other state that has conventions as a way to nominate candidates, including for federal office. Candidates compete in a convention, and if one candidate earns 60 percent of the vote, they win the nomination. Anything less than 60 percent, then the top two candidates go to a primary to determine the nomination.

Utah held its nominating convention over the summer of 2020. Unlike Virginia, they didn’t try to hold it at an outdoor park or use a “drive-thru.” Unlike Indiana, they didn’t use vote-by-mail.

Utah Republicans voted online, using a system called “Voatz.”

Perhaps this is a lesson for Virginia Republicans to learn – why hold a convention in-person at all? SCC could promote an online voting run by RPV to nominate candidates in 2021.

[Pause for laughter]

To be fair, this idea isn’t comical because of anything Utah did – by all accounts, their mid-pandemic convention went swimmingly.

Utah wasn’t even the only state that did this: Minnesota has primaries, but they endorse candidates in the primary via convention, and that was held online. So, too, were various district-level conventions in Connecticut (to choose a random state).

Virginia Republicans (lol)

The idea of online voting for a convention is comical because I cannot even fathom, nor can you, an RPV functional enough to make an online voting system work, let alone one that wouldn’t be instantly attacked as fraudulent or having “irregularities.”

My God, RPV can’t even figure out how to make parking lots work.

Nor would the idea receive any amount of support on SCC, where the technological prowess of many of its members begins and ends with clicking, “Share,” on the latest hour-long conspiracy theory video on Facebook.

But that’s it. That’s all the options. To recap, the methods of nominating candidates during a pandemic can be summarized as:

47 other states: Just hold a primary
Indiana: Mail-in voting
Utah: Online voting
Virginia: Try and fail to do an in-person convention

What’s most maddening about this is that Virginia Republicans could just hold a primary. We do it all the time! And precincts across the Commonwealth and the State Board of Elections are already set up to conduct the Democratic primary, plus Republican primaries in various House of Delegates districts and localities.

This wasn’t forced upon us; SCC chose to subject Virginia Republicans to this absurdity.

But not all of them: 35 sane voters on SCC voted to join most every other state and just hold a primary to let the voters pick a nominee. But a slim majority of 39 SCC members voted to put themselves in charge of the process instead, despite four straight years of conventions resulting in absurdity and disaster.

Convention supporters like to make pretend that conventions are ideologically superior, or empower the grassroots, or give advantages to nominees. These are lies. If any of these things were true, Virginia wouldn’t be one of the only states holding them.

Instead, those SCC members voted to do the insane thing because they are addicted to the power that comes with getting to decide exactly how to limit participation in the Republican Party (this being the key feature of a convention), and how to take advantage of the corruption and manipulating the rules that are inherent in planning a convention.

Now, after months and months, this farce is coming close to an end. Pro-convention SCC members looked around and saw most state GOPs using primaries, other states using mail or online voting, and reached a “compromise”: more parking lots.

We are the only state where this happens – and more than that, we chose to do this to ourselves. Thanks to 39 members of SCC, our state party is the laughingstock of the country.

Perhaps its time for Virginia Republicans to join the rest of the country and take the power out of SCC’s hands.

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