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DNC chair Tom Perez addresses attendees before the start of the second night of the second U.S. 2020 presidential Democratic candidates debate in Detroit, Michigan, on July 31, 2019. Photo by REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

DNC weighing how to handle delegate penalties for states that delayed primaries over coronavirus

The Democratic National Committee hasn’t finished hammering out rules changes for states that delayed their primaries because of the coronavirus pandemic, DNC Chair Tom Perez said Tuesday, but the party bought itself “more time” to make adjustments by pushing back its summer nominating convention.

Perez told the PBS NewsHour that the DNC’s rules and bylaws committee is working closely with states to find a workaround for a rule that requires states to forfeit half of their delegates if they hold primaries after June 9. Several states have rescheduled their primaries for late June or July in response to the public health crisis.

“If the convention were still in July we’d be up against a more difficult type of deadline,” Perez said in a phone interview. “Given that we’ve moved it back [to Aug. 17], I think we have provided the rules and bylaws committee with some flexibility moving forward.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden became the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee earlier this month after Sen. Bernie Sanders, his last remaining challenger, dropped out of the primary race. Biden has so far won 1,305 of the 1,991 delegates needed to secure the nomination.

But the decision by several states to delay voting amid the coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders slowed Biden’s path to the nomination. Biden could still cross the delegate threshold if the states that are slated to vote by June 9 go forward with their primaries. But the final delegate count will depend on any adjustments the DNC may make for awarding delegates in states that moved their primaries after June 9.

Perez did not say what options were being discussed, or when a final decision would be made. But he signaled states might not be penalized for choosing to delay voting during a pandemic.“We want to make sure that we treat people in those states fairly,” he said.

Mail-in voting should be expanded in the remaining primary elections and the general election in November so voters don’t have to choose between risking their health at the polls or not voting at all, Perez said.

Perez criticized Republicans in Wisconsin for opposing efforts to push back the state’s primary and to expand absentee balloting. A record number of voters mailed in absentee ballots in the April 7 primary, but others waited in line to vote in person in the first and so far only election to be held in a state with a stay-at-home order in place because of the coronavirus. State officials announced Tuesday that at least seven people became infected with the virus through Election Day activities.

The DNC chair praised Congress for including $400 million in the last coronavirus relief bill to help states cover election costs during the pandemic, but said an additional $2 billion in federal funding was needed for expanded mail-in voting programs.

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