Trump floats delaying election, draws critics
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Thursday raised the prospect of delaying the November election because of the COVID-19 pandemic, though the president lacks the legal authority to delay elections on his own.
Republicans and Democrats criticized the idea while election experts noted a president lacks the power to change the date of an election. Others suggested Trump is seeking to sow doubt about the election results or distract from a new government report that found a historic contraction in the nation’s economy. Trump broached the subject of a delay in a morning tweet in which he complained about potential problems with mail-in voting, a concern he has floated without citing specific evidence for months. Tacked onto the usual complaint, Trump added: “Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
The date of the presidential election is set by federal law, meaning Congress, not the president, has the power to change it, according to Edward Foley, a law professor from Ohio State University and an election law expert.
“The president has no power here,” Foley said. “Congress has the power. I can’t foresee Congress changing the date of the election.”
Even if the president and Congress wanted to delay the election, it would be a very tough climb legally, analysts said.
The U.S. Constitution requires congressional elections every two years. To hold congressional and presidential elections together, a delayed presidential election would still need to take place in 2020.
Delaying a presidential election would be unprecedented – the nation did not do so even during the Civil War and World War II.
Trump’s tweet drew criticism from Democrats and Republicans for sowing doubt about the accuracy of elections.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, DCalif., tweeted the language of the U.S. Constitution at Trump: “The Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, cited the Constitution, and said, “We’re a country based on a rule of law. No one is going to change anything until we change the law.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the Nov. 3 election should go forward, while another House GOP member, Liz Cheney of Wyoming, tweeted that “the resistance to this idea among Republicans is overwhelming.”
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters that Trump was joking so that “your heads will explode and you’ll write about it.” But the president did not exactly back away from the idea of an election delay in an afternoon set of tweets.
“Glad I was able to get the very dishonest LameStream Media to finally start talking about the RISKS to our Democracy” from mail-in voting, he said in one tweet. In another, Trump said: “Must know Election results on the night of the Election, not days, months, or even years later!”
The four-year term of a president ends at noon on Jan. 20, according to the 20th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, if the presidential election were somehow not held, Trump would not simply continue to hold office, according to Foley.
Instead, the new speaker of the House, or Nancy Pelosi if the Democrats maintain control, would be first in line to be acting president. But if the congressional election were not held either, Pelosi’s term would end Jan. 3. That would make the president pro tempore of the Senate – currently Grassley – the acting president, according to federal law.
Asked whether it was possible for the president to delay the election, Attorney General William Barr told a House committee Tuesday that he had “never” researched the issue. “I’ve never been asked the question before,” he said.
During a Senate hearing on Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a Harvard educated lawyer, refused to refute the idea that Trump could delay the election.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., expressed disbelief that Pompeo ducked the question, noting it is clearly established that Trump does not have that power.
“I don’t think it’s that hard a question … that should lead to any equivocation by somebody who’s fourth in line of succession to be president of the United States,” he said.
Supporters of mail-in voting said it would allow people to vote without having to risk catching COVID-19 at a crowded polling place.
Previewing what to expect in November, states across the country shattered records for mail-in voting and overall turnout during state primaries held since the pandemic began spreading rapidly in March.
Expanded mail-voting operated smoothly in some states but produced long Election Day lines in states that dramatically cut the number of polling places people could vote in-person.
It also took days, and weeks in several cases, for states to count the deluge of mail-in ballots, prompting election experts to warn voters to brace for “election week” or “weeks” in November – when turnout will be many times higher – and not expect a winner on election night.