Trump floats de­lay­ing elec­tion, draws crit­ics

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - David Jack­son, Joey Gar­ri­son and John Fritze Con­tribut­ing: Kevin John­son, Deirdre Sh­es­green, Ni­cholas Wu, and Court­ney Subra­ma­nian

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.

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