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Thursday, May 06, 2021

Donald Trump wants the US elections to be postponed. Is it possible?

Since Wednesday, Trump has railed on Twitter against mail-in voting, making claims of a “rigged election” and that votes, specifically in New York state, were “missing”.

Written by Neha Banka , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: August 1, 2020 11:30:41 am
Donald trump, US election delay, can Trump delay US elections, mail-in voting US, US election dates, express explained, indian express Trump has implied that mail-in voting would allow election fraud to occur on a more widespread scale across the US, without offering any evidence. (Photo: AP)

The United States woke up on Thursday (July 30) to a series of tweets by President Donald Trump suggesting that the upcoming presidential election should be delayed on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???” Trump tweeted.

For months, several state governments in the US have been contemplating mail-in voting due to public health concerns that in-person voting may lead to an increase in infection cases.

As of Thursday, the US had 4.43 million cases of novel coronavirus infection, and had seen nearly 1,51,000 deaths.

Can Trump delay the election, scheduled to be held on November 3?

Michael Beschloss, a historian of US presidential history, says such a move would “violate American law”. John Adams, the second President of the United States (1797-1801) wrote in 1811 that the United States has “a Government of Laws and Not of Men”, says Beschloss.

Which means that his early-morning tweet notwithstanding, Trump may not actually have the authority to do what he suggested – unless Congress allows it, which is unlikely given that the Democratic Party controls the House of Representatives, no matter how much Trump or the Republicans might want a postponement.

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The first indication of the possibility of a postponed election arose in March this year when the state of Ohio delayed the state primary elections, with the state’s Director of Health Amy Acton using Covid-19 as justification for postponing the elections.

Acton had the full support of the state’s Republican Governor Mike DeWine, and the state Supreme Court, Vox reported. Although there is no evidence that there were political motives behind the decision of Ohio state authorities, it did trigger concerns that the Republicans and Trump would use similar grounds to postpone or even cancel the presidential election in November, if it appeared that Trump might lose.

The date for the presidential election, however, is set by law, on November 3. That means it would require lawmakers to come to a consensus on delaying the election. According to the Congressional Research Service, “under the Twentieth Amendment, the incumbent President’s term ends at noon on January 20th. There are no provisions of law permitting a President to stay in office after this date, even in the event of a national emergency, short of the ratification of a new constitutional amendment.”

Trump would, therefore, be obligated by law to leave office on January 20, 2021, unless he is reelected. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Why is Trump against mail-in voting?

Since Wednesday, Trump has railed on Twitter against mail-in voting, making claims of a “rigged election” and that votes, specifically in New York state, were “missing”. He has implied that mail-in voting would allow election fraud to occur on a more widespread scale across the US, without offering any evidence.

Trump has been quoted as saying: “The Dems talk of foreign influence in voting, but they know that Mail-In Voting is an easy way for foreign countries to enter the race.” This statement too, has been made without clear evidence that mail-in voting was less secure.

According to the BBC, the mail-in voting process works like this: US states automatically send postal ballots to all registered voters in the state. Voters are required to return the ballots or drop them off on election day. In limited circumstances,however, in-person voting is still available.

“Critics of postal voting argue that people could vote more than once via absentee ballots and in person. Mr Trump has in the past said there was a risk of ‘thousands and thousands of people sitting in somebody’s living room, signing ballots all over the place’,” the BBC reported.

The New York Times reported that US states have conducted voting by mail-in voting in the past:
“Even before this year, five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — regularly conducted their elections almost entirely by mail.”

Have US elections ever been postponed?

Local elections have indeed been postponed. In 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, the mayoral primaries in New York City were postponed. More recently, as mentioned earlier, some states postponed their state primary elections due to the pandemic.

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However, a presidential election has not been delayed ever in the 244-year history of the institution – not even during the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918, or the American Civil War (1861 – 1865), or World War II. “Never in American history has there been a successful move to ‘Delay the Election’ for President,” Beschloss says.

Even in the extremely unlikely event of the House of Representatives agreeing with Trump, the election can’t be postponed indefinitely – or even for significantly long after the original date. This is because the presidential office would need a new incumbent, or the previous President must be re-elected and in that chair on January 20.

Can this get more complex?

Possibly yes. Members of the House are elected every two years. If the presidential election is postponed indefinitely, there would be no formation of the House of Representatives.

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If this happens, the Senate, the upper chamber of Congress, would have to pick the next President, as the Senate is a continuing body, unlike the House. If the Senate is unable to select the president, then the Speaker of the House would stand in as President of the United States, the Congressional Research Service says. But this has never happened.

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