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The Democrats’ Other Presidential Nomination Problem

The DNC is currently battling over when they should nominate their candidate to get on every ballot. It’s complicated.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention in 2020.
President Joe Biden speaks during the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention in 2020. Andrew Harnik/AP

The increasingly open question of whether Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee is creating new chaos regarding when Democrats will nominate their presidential candidate.

Weeks before Biden’s ill-fated debate performance, party leaders were trying to lock in Biden at the top of the ticket in order to combat GOP efforts to exclude Biden from ballots in Ohio. But now, with new questions about Biden remaining at the top of the ticket, delegates and DNC voters told NOTUS they are in the dark about the schedule.

Typically, the nomination would take place at the convention. But with the convention taking place after Ohio’s state ballot deadline, Democrats agreed to set up a “virtual roll call vote” to settle on their nominee and get on the ballot.

There is no set date for the virtual roll call vote, a source familiar told NOTUS. However, per rules drafted by the party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, it must take place by Aug. 6. That decision was adopted on June 4 and certified in a vote on June 20 with hundreds of DNC members. But again, if Biden were to step aside in favor of an open convention — start date Aug. 19 — there’s no telling what Democrats will do.

An early virtual roll call could help secure Biden’s position and potentially render conversations about him stepping down into the realm of fantasy — but it also could exacerbate tensions in the party and leave many Democrats feeling like Biden did an end-run around his political problems.

Either way, the process of choosing when the nomination will happen is mired in the minutia of party rules, and the swirling speculation of the Biden panic has addled some Democrats.

“Lots of false trial balloons being floated. Creating narrative havoc. As intended,” Rep. Sydney Kamlager Dove told NOTUS in a text. “Some of it is algorithmic. Russia and China interference. Some of it is Ds. Some press.”

Close Biden allies don’t know what’s going on with the timing of the virtual roll call.

Rep. Jennifer McClellan, who sits on Biden’s campaign advisory board, told NOTUS in a text that her “understanding” was that it would be in July, based on general statements from the DNC, the DNC vote and media reporting on the matter.

This week, Bloomberg News reported one date under consideration was July 21, the date when one of the committees managing the party’s convention in Chicago is holding a meeting online. But that was not a formal announcement, and it wasn’t reflected in communications to delegates and party members.

The late June vote by the greater DNC empowered committees of Democrats running the convention to set the date of the nomination roll call.

But over a dozen Democrats NOTUS spoke to — members of Congress, those on Biden’s campaign advisory board, DNC members, state party officials and pledged Biden delegates — said that date had not been communicated to them officially, and they couldn’t point to when or how Biden would be confirmed as the party nominee.

“I don’t know anything about it other than what I’ve read in the paper,” James Zogby, a superdelegate and longtime DNC member, told NOTUS. “I understand they want to move it up but we haven’t been notified about it at all.”

Zogby is publicly opposed to Biden staying in the race. And this week, he floated his own plan for a truncated open nominating process to find a replacement.

After the shift in the race following the debate, the virtual roll call feels a bit like a vestige of a different time. Proponents said it came about as a way to protect Biden against Republican interference in the general election by means of the calendar.

The Chicago convention is slated later than most past conventions and after an existing deadline to submit names to the general election ballot in Ohio. The GOP-controlled state government eventually passed a law moving the date back, but Democrats said they needed the virtual roll call to ensure Biden would definitely make the ballot in all 50 states.

As Democrats debate the future of the ticket, the party apparatus has not communicated updates about the state of the virtual roll call, according to delegates. The only communication delegates have received since the debate has been an email from the DNC’s convention committee with talking points about the August convention and also how to rebut concerns about Biden’s viability as a candidate.

“I know that there’s a lot of pressure from people trying to see if the right thing to do is to get our president to allow someone else to be the party’s nominee,” said Kevin Tolbert, a state party leader from Michigan attending the Chicago convention as a Biden delegate. “I’m not in agreement with that. I don’t think there’s enough time for that.”

But Tolbert also said he didn’t think a virtual roll call is a good idea. At a stressful time for Democrats, he said the party needs time to let Democrats process the post-debate feelings and get in the headspace for a general election.

“We’re an emotional party. We want this connection that gives an emotional feeling, that drives people to the polls. But we have to be more of a cerebral party, especially now, especially in the huge challenges that we’re facing now, with the existential threat to democracy that Trump is posing that the Supreme Court is doing,” he said. “So I don’t think we need to accelerate this thing.”

Tinashe Chingarande is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow, and Evan McMorris-Santoro is a reporter at NOTUS.