Aug 19, 2020 - Technology

The tech that made (mostly) virtual conventions a reality

A photo of a woman's hands holding a smartphone, which displays Joe Biden giving a campaign speech.

Photo: Mary Schwalm/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

Shifting this year’s political conventions to be largely virtual affairs has accelerated an effort already underway to ensure the proceedings extend far beyond any convention site to an increasingly digital audience.

Why it matters: The format and technology may have changed dramatically this year but the underlying goals remain the same: energize the base, build momentum and woo voters on the fence.

Where it stands: Conversations with Republican and Democratic tech officials and convention organizers reveal a steady progression of technology since the last conventions four years ago, shaken up by a last-minute scramble to ensure both the flash and the business of the events would continue amid the pandemic.

What's new:

  • The Democrats' convention boasts hundreds of remote video feeds being used as part of the main presentation, up from just five in 2016. One of the key challenges has been not only managing those feeds, but ensuring minimal delay so physically distant speakers can interact with one another, said Democratic Convention COO Andrew Binns.
  • Democratic delegates are using chat software to not only communicate during councils and caucuses but also share polls, presentations and even make donations.
  • Republicans have migrated all tech supporting convention work to the cloud after having used a mix of cloud services and on-premise servers in 2016.
  • "Literally our team can pick up and move anywhere we need to go," Max Everett, the chief information officer for the Republican convention, told Axios. That's helped as the event moved from Charlotte to Jacksonville and (in downscaled form) back to Charlotte in recent months.

Flashback: Everett is an RNC veteran, having run the technology for each GOP convention since 2000, with each gathering ushering in various pieces of new technology.

  • In 2000, the focus was just about giving those at home a glimpse inside the room. "Having anything up on the website was a big deal," he said.
  • 2004 marked the first livestream.
  • 2008 had a more robust livestream, including interviews from the sidelines of the event.
  • 2012 marked the maturation of social media, especially YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, as a major force in politics and avenue for sharing convention-related content.
  • 2016 saw the RNC add a Twitch stream at a time when most non-gamers had yet to hear of the video service.

Go deeper: The MVPs of This Year’s Conventions? The Digital and IT Teams (NYT)

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