LEXINGTON, Ky. – The 2020 Democratic National Convention began this week in Milwaukee, Wis., and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the bulk of the event is taking place virtually.

What You Need To Know

  • 60 delegates representing Kentucky

  • Convention taking place mostly online

  • Lexington's Tyler Murphy attending third DNC

  • Mail-in voting, right to vote being discussed among delegation

The national nominating convention is the formal ceremony during which the party officially selects its nominee. Former Vice President Joe Biden was selected as the Democratic candidate this year Tuesday, Aug. 18, the second day of the convention. 

Delegates chosen to represent their state at the national convention are typically party activists, local political leaders, or early supporters of a particular presidential candidate. They are either selected in primaries, caucuses, local party conventions or included because of their positions as elected representatives or members of the party leadership. Lexington resident Tyler Murphy, 32, a teacher at Boyle County High School and member of the Fayette County Board of Education, is one of 60 delegates representing Kentucky at this year’s convention and one of 4,750 delegates overall. Murphy is no stranger to serving as a delegate, having been elected to attend the Democratic National Conventions in 2008 and 2016 as well.

“My third convention is certainly much different from the other two because it’s all online,” Murphy said. “I was looking forward to going to Milwaukee, but that did not get to happen.” 

Murphy said the Kentucky delegation has set up several Zoom meetings, some of which are specific to Kentucky, and throughout the day there are various caucus meetings, such as the Rural Council and the Youth Council, which Murphy is involved in, and other constituencies within the party represented by caucuses. 

“There are some panel discussions about election security, mail-in voting and securing the right to vote,” Murphy said. “There are discussions about some education-specific topics and we'll also do regional things. We had a big Zoom session with all of the delegates from the southern states and heard from some elected officials before going into breakout rooms and kind of introducing ourselves to each other. One of the biggest missing pieces of this convention is the opportunity to socialize with fellow delegates and exchange ideas with folks from across the country. At least there is some opportunity to do that, although not as much as we normally would have. But there’s some opportunity to do that in the virtual setting.” 

The number of delegates awarded to each state is determined by a formula that factors the state’s popular vote for the Democratic nominee in the previous three elections, the state’s electoral votes, and when the state’s primary takes place. Delegates can be pledged to a candidate, uncommitted or automatic, with automatic delegates being more commonly known as superdelegates.

Kentucky’s delegates were elected by state-level delegates at the state convention. This year, Kentucky allowed registered Democrats in each congressional district to register to vote for delegates online. Murphy is a delegate from Kentucky’s Sixth Congressional District, which is represented in Congress by Rep. Andy Barr (R-Lexington) and includes Anderson, Bath, Bourbon, Clark, Estill, Fayette, Fleming, Franklin, Madison, Menifee, Montgomery, Nicholas, Powell, Robertson, Scott, Wolfe and Woodford counties, as well as portions of Harrison and Jessamine counties. 

“It's a very complicated process how the nominees are chosen,” Murphy said. “We voted on paper, or a PDF, that we filled in, and then mailed it to the Democratic National Committee to be processed. We got a confirmation of our votes back just to make sure everything was processed correctly. Normally we would vote in-person with just a pencil and paper.”

Pledged delegates are elected during primaries, caucuses, or party conventions, and must express either a presidential candidate preference or an uncommitted preference as a condition of their election. Pledged PLEO delegates are party leaders and elected officials, and superdelegates include members of the Democratic National Committee, Democratic members of Congress, Democratic governors, or distinguished party leaders, including former presidents and vice presidents. They are free to support any presidential candidate of their choosing. Following the 2016 presidential election, the Unity Reform Commission was formed to revise the Democratic nominating process, including reducing the number and power of superdelegates.

Each state has its own method for selecting delegates that may occur at the county, district, or state level. In some states, such as Kentucky, a voter directly votes for a presidential candidate in the presidential preference primary, and delegates are separately chosen at party conventions. In other states, a voter indirectly votes for a presidential candidate by supporting a delegate or delegates committed to him or her.

Delegates are allocated proportionally based on the outcome of each state’s primary contest. Biden won Kentucky’s Democratic Presidential Primary June 23 with nearly 68 percent of the vote. A candidate is typically only eligible to receive a share of the pledged delegates at stake if they win at least 15 percent of votes cast in a primary or caucus. That standard is referred to as the 15 percent threshold. In addition to pledged delegates, there are alternate delegates for each state, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. territories and Democrats Abroad. Alternates attend the convention but do not vote unless a pledged delegate was unable to attend. To win the Democratic nomination, a presidential candidate must receive support from a majority of the pledged delegates (1,991) on the first ballot. Biden secured the Democratic nomination for president by securing 2,676 votes. Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont came in second with 1,099 votes.

If the convention is contested and goes to a second ballot or more, superdelegates are able to vote and a candidate must receive majority support from all delegates, or 2,375.5 votes. 

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, several states postponed their primaries. Under Rule 12 of the Delegate Selection Rules for the 2020 Democratic National Convention, no primary or caucus was permitted to take place after June 9, and any state violating that rule was subject to delegate reduction penalties.

“I like to joke that at this convention, you can drink bourbon in the convention hall,” Murphy said. “We had someone on a Zoom call last night who was drinking Milwaukee beer since the convention is supposed to be in Milwaukee. A lot of it has just been socializing through Zoom or some of these other platforms. Usually, you're in the convention hall, you're part of the crowd and it's a captivating experience and you want to be in that moment. But this year, it’s a little bit different because you’re watching it, you’re a little bit removed from it as a delegate. You’re more involved than the average person watching it, but you also don’t have that ability to engage and interact with folks outside of the virtual convention hall.”