The Libertarian Party's National Committee (LNC) decided by a 13–4 vote today, after a tortuous 8-hour Zoom meeting, to divide the party's convention business into two parts.
The first will be an online meeting over the same Memorial Day weekend during which the scotched in-person convention was supposed to occur in Austin, Texas. At this online meeting, "nomination and balloting for party candidates for President and Vice-President" will occur.
Then a follow-up physical convention will be held in Orlando, Florida, from July 8–12. While the LNC did not formally commit yet to a contracted venue, they received a presentation from the Rosen Shingle Creek resort that seems to be a favorite.
The realities of the pandemic led the original convention hotel to cancel the party's reservation. Some expected that last Saturday the LNC would commit to a non-physical option, but instead, they voted to give themselves another 10 days to set up an alternate physical convention to occur before July 15.
Lots of debate stormed in the week between about parliamentary, legal, and physical possibilities and impossibilities. That debate continued during today's marathon LNC meeting.
Some insisted the word "place" in the party's bylaws (Article 10), had to mean a physical place, and thus conducting official convention business online would violate those bylaws. A vast amount of time today was spent on the metaphysical question of "what is a place?" and the proper reasonable meaning of "impossible."
Others insisted that Robert's Rules of Order was making new adjustments for the pandemic reality of electronic meetings; some argued that regardless of whether some electronic meetings are allowed under Robert's, Article 12 of the party bylaws did mention that "Boards and committees may conduct business by teleconference or videoconference." Yet! Article 10 did not specify that a convention could. Some believed that not mentioning virtual specifically as possible for conventions meant such online conventions were prohibited.
Some believed that if Robert's Rules and the Libertarian Party bylaws prevented the organization from performing the very purposes that bylaws and Robert's Rules are supposed to help with (not prevent), such stringent interpretation was perverse and unnecessary. Some mocked the idea that any available physical place could possibly hold nearly 1,000 people and conduct business with safe social distancing, but Orlando's Rosen Shingle Creek thinks it can.
Some worried, during the meeting and in online chatter, that the progress of the law or the pandemic might make the party have to eventually cancel the in-person portion in July later anyway. Many also worry that the combination of the pandemic and the presidential vote having already occurred will encourage lots of would-be delegates to not show up in Orlando even if an in-person event does happen, leaving whoever wins the party officer positions (and other issues settled) at that in-person convention under a shadow moving forward.
Lots of back and forth happened today about whether it mattered much that it was merely difficult or inadvisable for people to travel to an in-person convention during a pandemic; after all, there is always some reason a delegate a state party picked might not make it to the actual convention. Some thought it made the party look criminally irresponsible to encourage 1,000 people to travel across the country to descend on a city, then scatter; some thought it made them look like they were kowtowing to tyrannical fears and supportive of shutting down American business to not do that.
Outgoing LNC chair Nicholas Sarwark (he is not running for re-election) said in a phone interview before the meeting that he believed "the best [thing] for the party to do would be to set the national convention for Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend" (to honor the commitments of time already made by delegates), but hold it "in an online venue like Zoom, and have prepared a motion to modify the convention agenda" to move most convention business outside "LNC, judicial, presidential, and vice-presidential elections" to some later, potentially in-person convention, since most other business and motions would be difficult to do online. This is more or less what happened, though today's recommendation has LNC and judicial votes pushed to the later in-person meeting.
Daniel Hayes, head of the convention oversight committee, said in a phone interview before the meeting that an in-person convention was vital for media attention; this is likely so, though shifting the presidential vote into the virtual earlier convention likely will drain some media interest from the physical followup. Out of an abundance of caution over whether some entity might later decide the decision of a virtual presidential vote was technically against the rules, the outcome of the Memorial Day online vote will need to be ratified by the July in-person convention.
LNC Secretary Caryn Ann Harlos was one of the leading voices, at first, for an in-person convention only, but was key in offering a version of the "presidential vote electronic, rest in person later" compromise. Overarchingly, she thinks talk of evading inconvenient bylaw interpretations for whatever reason is violating the "contract with members," since she sees the bylaws as a contractual agreement the LNC has made with the party's members.
Harlos thinks, though, that since their very purpose as a party is to run national candidates, a compromise that allows that and only that business to be done electronically was acceptable, as waiting much longer would conflict with certain state's ballot access deadlines. However, she believes "merely being scared of a virus" was not a good enough reason to mess around with the bylaws' clear language.
The LNC has been experimenting this week with Zoom meetings that emulate the functions of a normal convention, though some participants have found them lacking, subject to both technical glitches and giving presiding officers more power to control how delegates can communicate than in an in-person meeting.
The LNC doesn't have the power to tell the actual delegates assembled that they can only do specific things at a convention, so the choice to only do the presidential vote at whatever electronic meeting commences will ultimately have to be made by the convention body itself.
Rep. Justin Amash (L–Mich.), the newly minted Libertarian congressman who is certainly a frontrunner, if not now the frontrunner, for the party's presidential nomination said in an interview with The Fifth Column podcast this week (starring Reason's Matt Welch) that "For my part…I want every candidate to feel that they got a fair shot, including our campaign. We all want to be treated fairly under this process and that's what's important, that nobody feels like this was some kind of a setup one way or the other either for my candidacy, or against my candidacy, and every other candidate feels the same way about their own campaign." Amash added, "I think it's important that we not postpone it too late because if you postpone it too long, it makes the calendar more challenging and we want to make sure we get on the ballot in all these states too….A campaign has to get up and running and it would be better if it doesn't go all the way to July or something like that."
The matter is important because some state ballot petitioning rules require the actual named candidate, so the later the candidate is named, the harder it will be to meet those requirements. Candidate Jim Gray, former California Superior Court judge and former Libertarian vice presidential candidate in 2012, said in a phone interview this week that while it "would be much more preferable to have an in-person convention, for our campaign, for the party, for the country, since there will be less excitement and less give and take [likely online]—having said that, it's a tradeoff." If waiting for a reasonably safe and doable face-to-face meeting "would likely result in us losing ballot access in too many states," then he understands.
Joe Bishop-Henchman, a candidate for LNC chair this year and a leader in the "online presidential vote" faction said in a phone interview before the convention that he worried if the party didn't settle its presidential candidate question sooner rather than later that some state party affiliates might see it necessary to "defy [the national party] and go it alone." In that case, he would not "hold it against them," but he thinks the compromise reached today will "prevent that from happening, the danger of different presidential tickets in different states."
While this question was not settled, many on the LNC seemed to think that if certain state delegations were prohibited by their own state's travel restrictions from making it to Orlando, some allowance would likely be made by the delegates at that convention to allow them to participate in votes and debates virtually.