In Trailblazers: Diaries From The Front Lines Of The 2020 Election, we take an in-depth look at the lives of women working behind the scenes to make our country better every day, whether it’s on a presidential campaign or political advocacy organization.
Name: Carla Frank
Occupation: Delegate Director, Biden for President
Gender Identity: Woman
Location: Washington, D.C.
Social Media Handles: @csfrank206 on Twitter
As the Delegate Director for the Biden campaign, it’s my job to ensure Joe Biden is successfully nominated as the Democratic Party’s Nominee for President of the United States at the 2020 Democratic National Convention.
Thursday, August 13, 2020: Day 11 of Delegate Voting
7:30 a.m. — Alarm goes off and coffeemaker ticks on. Being able to pre-set a coffeemaker might be one of my favorite pieces of technology. I scroll through Twitter and Instagram. Vice President Biden announced Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate on Tuesday, and the internet is loving it!
7:45 a.m. — Answer some emails from my phone.
8 a.m. — Take Franklin out for a walk. Franklin the dog is a funny little guy. The vet thinks he is a Corgi-Rottweiler mix, and he has many cat-like tendencies. He likes to spend his days sitting on a blanket in a suitcase. This morning, I had to coax him out from under the bed to take him outside.
8:30 a.m. — Listen to NPR and make some breakfast. One thing I enjoy about working from home is having time to make an actual breakfast. I am keeping it simple this morning — just soft-boiled eggs on toast.
10 a.m. — Full delegate team meeting. Today is the 11th day of delegate voting.
In each primary, a candidate who wins over 15% of the vote wins delegates. The primary is a race to win the majority of the delegates, and this year, the magic number was 1,991. The delegates then meet at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) to vote to nominate the party’s presidential candidate, nominate the vice presidential candidate, approve a party platform, and take part in other official party business.
Because the convention is entirely virtual this year, delegates have to cast their ballots remotely. Under normal circumstances, the delegates record their votes at their state’s delegation breakfast on the morning of the roll call vote, which typically takes place on the Tuesday night of convention week. Delegates show up to their breakfast and record their vote on a tally sheet. Later that day, once the convention is gaveled in, the roll call vote takes place. This is that exciting scene on TV when you would see a representative from each state read out the number of votes their state will cast for the presidential candidates. It is all orchestrated, and we always know who is going to win the most votes, but this is the symbolic moment when the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee is officially nominated.
Since no one will be in Milwaukee, the delegates are voting remotely. They each received a ballot over email on Monday, August 3, and have until 11:59 p.m. on August 15 to return their ballots. There are about 400 Biden delegates who have yet to return their ballots, and I have three days to get those in.
10:30 a.m. — Daily check-in with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign and the DNC. We discuss a game plan to track down the remaining members of Congress who have not cast their ballots yet.
We also decide that it is time to activate alternate delegates. In addition to electing delegates, each state has a number of alternates. Under normal circumstances, the alternate delegates travel to the convention and get elevated to being a delegate if a delegate goes missing or decides to leave the convention floor. With our virtual balloting, the alternates have not played a role yet. We are going to send ballots to alternates in 30 different states, where there are still outstanding delegate ballots.
11 a.m. — Check in with my team. We put this check-in call together once the campaign started working from home to make sure we kept team camaraderie in place.
12:30 p.m. — Ballot access meeting with the DNC and members of the Biden legal team. The delegate process is closely intertwined with ballot access. A small group of us ran primary ballot access, which was a mixture of getting petition signatures in some states and just filing paperwork in others. We now have to focus on ballot access for the general election. This revolves around the certification of electors.
In the way that accumulating delegates is how you run your primary election strategy, the general election is all about the accumulation of electors. Electors are the appointed members of the Electoral College. The Electoral College consists of 538 electors, where a presidential candidate needs 270 electors to win the majority. Each state is given one elector for each of their U.S. Representatives and Senators. The smallest states, like Wyoming, have three electors. The largest state, California, has 55 electors. The Democratic and Republican state parties in each state select and certify electors with their state. If a Democrat wins the state, the Democratic Party’s electors become members of the Electoral College.
1 p.m. — My boyfriend’s birthday is tomorrow, so I have decided to make fresh cinnamon rolls for breakfast. I wouldn’t normally take on such an ambitious baking project, but I recently COVID-purchased a lot of yeast. I dial in to a conference call as I get to work on the dough.
2 p.m. — I join our Colorado Leadership call to give our top supporters in Colorado an update on what to expect from the convention next week.
At an in-person convention, delegates are typically attending various meetings that align with their interests, watching an extensive program from the convention floor, and attending events into the evening. I explain how things will look this year on the call. There will be Zoom events throughout the day to replace the meetings, discussion panels, and training events. The convention program will air live each night from 9 to 11 p.m. And the exciting moment when the delegate roll call takes place will now be a 30-minute tour of all 57 states and territories with delegates. It has been impressive for me to see how the team has reimagined the convention in the times of COVID.
4 p.m. — I join our Nevada Leadership call and give a similar update on what they can expect at the convention.
4:30 p.m. — Delegate votes are coming in at a good pace, so I sneak out for a bike ride. I just bought a road bike, and I am loving it. I can already tell that being able to get out into nature on my bike is going to be key to staying sane while working from home. I love city life, and I love living in the middle of D.C., but I also love nature and trees. It’s nice to feel like I can breathe.
6:30 p.m. — I start updating our internal tracker with the delegate votes that came in today. It looks like we should only have about 150 delegates left to track down. I am determined to get to 100%. I just got confirmation that the list of alternates I sent to the DNC received their ballots, so I will need to make sure my team has a plan in place to track all of those ballots down tomorrow.
7:30 p.m. — All-staff call. We have these weekly, but today’s call is special. Dr. Jill Biden and Vice President Biden introduce Sen. Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff to their staff. Our advance team has outdone themselves — the four of them join the team call from a large round where they are surrounded by very tall curved screens. The screens display the different panels of the Zoom so they can see all of the staff. It’s very modern — and sort of absurd.
8 p.m. — Call ends. Time to make dinner. I took some ground turkey out of the freezer without a real plan this morning, so I spend a few minutes on New York Times Cooking to look for inspiration. I settle on a recipe for turkey kabobs. They turn out to be pretty easy to make.
9 p.m. — Time to start on the cinnamon rolls. My dough is still very sticky, but the recipe says not to add any flour. BUT, it is August in D.C., and there is no way this recipe takes the 120% humidity into account. I go with adding more flour, but very slowly. I am starting to feel overconfident, so I add extra butter and extra cinnamon to the filling.
10:15 p.m. — I update the delegate tracker one more time. The state parties on the West Coast are reporting some more votes. I update my number for the night and send a daily summary.
Friday, August 14, 2020: Day 12 of Delegate Voting
7 a.m. — Today is my boyfriend Rob’s birthday. He also works on the campaign, as the digital director. I get up so I can finally bake the cinnamon rolls.
7:30 a.m. — First cup of coffee. Okay, I finally feel human.
7:35 a.m. — I put on NPR and catch up on emails.
8 a.m. — Time to see how many delegate votes came in overnight… Some states are having a harder time than others getting all of their delegates to cast their ballots. A few came in, but not as many as I would have liked.
I type out an email to my team with an outreach plan for the alternates. We need to call each of them, asking them to get their votes in as quickly as possible while clearly explaining their roles to them. The alternate delegate votes will only be counted if the elected delegate does not count their ballot, so these are contingency votes to help assure that we hit the 100% participation from pledged delegates.
8:25 a.m. — Oven is hot, so my cinnamon rolls go in.
8:26 a.m. — The list of performers during the convention is out. I scroll through, and I’m very excited to see Maggie Rogers on the list. I saw her for the first time at Newport Folk Festival last year, and then in Philly last fall with a lot of campaign people. I also LOVE The Chicks and have listened to their album Gaslighter basically non-stop since it came out. I may have broken into tears when I played Wide Open Spaces at the beginning of quarantine. (To be clear, I was sharing a 400-square-foot studio apartment with another human and a dog. There was very little natural light, and the bathroom was my conference room.) I heard Billie Eilish is going to debut her new song as well. This is going to be awesome!
9 a.m. — Pull the cinnamon rolls out of the oven. They look amazing. I am pretty impressed with myself. I let them cool for a few minutes before we dig in.
10 a.m. — First conference call of the day. It is a quick one.
10:30 a.m. — Check in with the Sanders campaign and the DNC. We have a plan in place to get as close to 100% of the votes cast across the board.
11 a.m. — Check in with my team.
While on this call, I fire off some texts to members of the digital team. In this COVID campaign world, we celebrate birthdays by putting together surprise meetings. We use Google Hangouts across the campaign, which makes this task a little more challenging than just using Zoom. You need to first put a plausible fake meeting on the calendar, then share the Hangout link generated for that meeting with the group of celebrants.
We come up with a fake meeting, and get it added to Rob’s calendar. He normally celebrates with a karaoke birthday party, but this will have to do this year…
12:30 p.m. — We need to put in some more alternate delegates. I put a list together and send it to the DNC.
2 p.m. — I join the Texas Leadership call and give them an update on what to expect from the convention.
2:30 p.m. — Conference call.
5:30 p.m. — Time for the surprise birthday meeting. This is really a cross-campaign gathering. First surprise was successfully executed.
5:45 p.m. — The next surprise arrives: the digital team ordered a singing telegram. We go outside, and I make sure that everyone on the birthday celebration can see. The performer stands 6 feet away, dressed in a heart-shaped costume and a fedora, and runs through a compilation of Fight Song (an ode to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign), Roses by OutKast, and Faith by George Michael.
6 p.m. — I hop on a call about convention-week plans. I want to make sure we are inviting delegates to virtual events whenever possible.
8:10 p.m. — I ordered takeout for dinner, and it finally arrives!
9:30 p.m. — Final check on the delegate vote count for the day. I send a nightly report and type up an email with the plan to get through the final stretch.
Saturday, August 15, 2020: Day 13, Final Day of Delegate Voting (!)
8:30 a.m. — Alarm goes off. I get a cup of coffee before scrolling through Twitter and Instagram, and then my email.
9:30 a.m. — Hop on my first call of the day. We finalize the plan to get through the rest of the elector-selection work.
10:30 a.m. — Last and final check-in with the DNC and Sanders campaign.
11:15 a.m. — My friend Matt picks me up, and we set off on a long bike ride. We make our way up through Rock Creek Park, and get lost several times as we head to the paths that run along the Anacostia River. I make us pull over a few times to take calls and answer some emails.
2:30 p.m. — We are 50 delegates away. I start making calls to delegates who have not received their ballots to see if I can reach them.
3:30 p.m. — Down to 25 delegates’ ballots to track down.
6 p.m. — I have one delegate in South Dakota who is not accounted for. No one has succeeded in getting in touch with the delegate for the past two weeks, and the phone numbers we have for both alternates are bad numbers. Time for Plan B.
7:30 p.m. — I work with the DNC and the Delegate Selection Rules to name a new alternate, and the DNC is about to call her to take her vote over the phone.
7:35 p.m. — I get a text that they are about to call her. All that is standing between me and having ballots recorded for all of the Biden pledged delegates is this phone call.
7:38 p.m. — We get the last vote from South Dakota!! Now, I anxiously sit and stare at my Google doc, waiting for the state party staff to record the last ballots. I know the three delegates I am waiting for voted, I just can’t declare success until I actually see the votes in the system.
8 p.m. — The state party staff is in the Google doc!!!
8:24 p.m. — First of the three missing ballots is input.
8:32 p.m. — Second of the three missing ballots is input.
8:34 p.m. — Third of the three missing ballots is input. We have officially done it: 100% of the Biden pledged delegates have cast their ballots.
8:36 p.m. — Send a congratulatory email to the team and then open a bottle of sparkling rosé. This moment has been a year in the making.
I started the delegate work last August. Each of the 50 states, D.C., and six territories have different rules for how you elect delegates that I had to learn. The trajectory of the primary looked very different then. We were working on plans for a contested convention since the primary looked like it could be very tight and go on for a long time. Everything changed on Super Tuesday, when it became clear in one evening that not only would there not be a contested convention, but that we would be on track to secure the nomination pretty quickly.
My job drastically changed the day Sen. Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race. He chose to stay on the ballot in all of the upcoming primaries, and there were a lot of primaries left. The DNC Delegate Selection Rules are written such that Sen. Sanders would have lost a number of the delegates he had already won that day. It was important to Vice President Biden that we focus on building unity, so we worked out a compromise with the Sanders campaign around the delegate-selection process to work around the DNC’s rules.
We worked together to get through the delegate selection in the remaining states. And here we are — all of the Sanders delegates have voted as well. 100% across the board. I couldn’t be more proud and excited!
8:40 p.m. — I FaceTime my parents to celebrate.
9:10 p.m. — I realize that I have not eaten dinner. I order pizza.
10:02 p.m. — Pizza arrives.
11 p.m. — It is bedtime. Monday marks the beginning of the 2020 Democratic National Convention. Things feel very different this year.
Tomorrow, I should be waking up in Milwaukee. The convention is this incredible gathering of people who work in all facets of politics, party activists and party leaders, coming together in one city to celebrate the presidential nomination process as well as the Democratic Party. The week is a packed schedule of meetings, parties, watching history unfold, meeting new people, seeing old friends, exploring a new city, and getting very little sleep.
While we won’t be together in person, we will all tune in each night and celebrate this moment that the campaign has worked so hard toward for over a year and the unity of our party heading into the most important election of our lifetimes.
I am going to bed tonight knowing that I succeeded in my job — formalizing Joe Biden’s nomination for President of the United States. Tomorrow, it is onto something new.
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