Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, the likely Democratic candidate in November's national presidential election, says the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the country is likely to force significant alterations or postponement of the party's national nominating convention scheduled for July.
The Democratic and Republican national conventions are a quadrennial showpiece of American democracy, but Biden told MSNBC late Tuesday that it is "hard to envision" the Democratic convention set for mid-July in the Midwestern city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, occurring as scheduled.
The Republican convention is planned for August in Charlotte in the Atlantic coastal state of North Carolina.
"We should listen to the scientists" on whether it would be safe come mid-July to have several thousand Democrats and hundreds of media representatives crammed in close proximity to each other at the Fiserv Forum, a basketball arena, Biden told the news channel.
Under current restrictions, such a gathering would not be possible.
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Republican President Donald Trump, Biden's would-be opponent as he seeks a second term in the White House, has extended social distancing in the U.S. through the end of April as the country's coronavirus death toll mounts by the hundreds every day.
Government and health officials have told Americans to keep from gathering in crowds of more than 10 people, with police in some communities already arresting violators.
Dozens of U.S. governors across the country have imposed stay-at-home orders, with about 80% of the country's 327 million people now under such directives.
Biden said the Democratic convention was scheduled to avoid conflict with the summer Olympics in Tokyo, which had been set to begin July 24. But now that the games have been postponed till 2021, the Democratic Party could push ahead the start of its convention, if that would make sense related to coronavirus concerns three months from now.
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"There is more time now," Biden said. "We ought to be able to do what we were able to do in the middle of the Civil War all the way through to World War II - have Democratic and Republican conventions and primaries and elections, and still have public safety. We're able to do both."
Looking ahead to the national election set for Nov. 3, Biden said that state election officials need to prepare now for more absentee ballots that are mailed in and should consider a virtual election, with secure remote voting.
"They should be doing that now, planning on it," he added. "This is about making sure that we're able to conduct our democracy while we're dealing with a pandemic. We can do both. It may mean a difference in the way we do it. It may mean that social distancing doesn't get it done. It may mean that you have a circumstance where you have drive-in voting, literally."