Why Trump Cannot Delay the Election
By: Leyuan Zhou
On Thursday, President Trump suggested on his Twitter page that the Nov.3 general election be delayed “until people can properly, securely and safely vote.” In his opinion, a widespread mail-in voting system would make the results of the election “inaccurate and fraudulent.”
The announcement comes after recent polls showed the president lagging significantly behind his rival, Joe Biden, as he struggles to grapple with the devastating effects of the COVID-19 health crisis and severe economic collapse.
However, according to Article II of the Constitution, the president does not possess the authority to move the date of the federal election.
The president cannot cancel or postpone an election with an executive order because Article II of the Constitution allows Congress to choose the timing of the general election. An 1845 federal law decided that the date would be the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Therefore, the federal law would need to be changed in order for a date change to occur. A change in federal law would require a legislation ratified by Congress, signed by the president, and possibly challenged in the courts.
The likelihood of Mr. Trump moving the election on his own is extremely low, according to the New York Times article. The approval of such legislation would require passing the simple majority in the House of Representatives (218 of 435), which is controlled by Democrats; and the Senate (51 of 100), which is controlled by Republicans. Considering the intense political divide between the two parties, bipartisanship is virtually impossible, which means that a legislation proposed by either side of the political spectrum will have difficulty passing.
In the past, the United States had held “elections in this country when we were at war, even when we were in civil war,” said Condoleezza Rice, the national security advisor from 2001-2005. It was only reported in 2004 that Bush administration officials had debated whether or not to postpone a federal election in the event of a terrorist attack. However, that idea blew over quickly.
Although the timing of the presidential election is dictated by federal law, voting procedures are mainly controlled within each state. Some states are allowing early and absentee ballots; some are permitting mail-in voting and same-day registration; others are requiring specific identifications for voters.
The ballots could offer a foreshadowing of the results of election night– unless one candidate wins by substantial margins, there may be no clear or instant winner of the race. However, that does not mean the election would be fraudulent, only that the process will take longer to determine the champion.