Today, Gov. Northam announced a prohibition on special event gatherings of 100 or more people, and reiterated the need to maintain social distancing. In particular, the Governor highlighted an outbreak on the Peninsula where local governments have requested that gatherings of 50 or more not take place.
I have consulted with RPV’s General Counsel, and based on that, RPV recommends the following:
Units with scheduled mass meetings, party canvasses, and conventions should use common sense in deciding how to proceed. The prohibition on special event gatherings applies to events where 100 or more are in the same room for a sustained period of time without sufficient space to maintain appropriate social distancing.
Where there are no contests to be resolved (i.e., filings did not exceed the number of positions to be elected), the event should be cancelled and all filers declared elected. If only a few contests need to be resolved, all uncontested positions should be declared elected.
It may be appropriate to continue with scheduled party canvasses as they do not involve simultaneous gatherings. Canvass participants–volunteers and voters–should observe appropriate cautions relating to disinfecting surfaces, using hand sanitizer, and the like. Participants should be encouraged not to linger at the polling place. If a facility where a canvass was scheduled is no longer available, conducting a canvass in a parking lot or at a nearby facility may be appropriate (for a change in location, a notice should be placed at the original location and potential voters should be given additional time to make it to the new location).
Mass meetings and conventions are likely to be more problematic. Units that anticipate fewer than 100 participants, particularly in areas of the state that have not yet had any cases of COVID-19, may decide to carry on (a map of cases is available at the Virginia Department of Health website, http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/surveillance-and-investigation/novel-coronavirus/).
If a unit holds these events, it should keep the program as short as possible, conducting only the essential business of elections, and adjourn quickly, observing all the appropriate precautions. Participants should be encouraged to avoid physical contact, such as handshakes, and to spread out in the facility.
Any units who wish to cancel or postpone their event, should consult with candidates in contested elections, and do their best to observe the requirements of the Party Plan.
Units may wish to change the event type (e.g., from a mass meeting to a party canvass). As no candidates for public office are being elected, making such a change is permissible.
Some units are thinking creatively and holding “unassembled” mass meetings or conventions, treating the events in similar fashion to a party canvass. While not strictly authorized in our parliamentary authority, if Party members act in good faith and candidates are consulted, this may be an appropriate way to proceed.
A mass meeting or convention could convene with a very small group, elect a chair, and proceed to adjourn at the call of the chair, so that the event can be postponed until the public health situation has changed. Of course, we don’t know when that change may occur, so postponement may not be the best solution.
The scheduled Executive Committee conference call on Wednesday, and the State Central Committee meeting on March 28, will address the State Convention and the district conventions.
Thank you for your continued efforts to advance our Party’s cause during this challenging time.
Jack R. Wilson, III