No, Trump Can’t Delay the Election
Despite what he suggested in a Thursday morning tweet, President Donald Trump does not have the authority to cancel or postpone the 2020 general election. And if the election doesn’t take place for some reason, Trump would have to leave office in January.
Let’s back up. In case you haven’t seen it already, here’s the grenade the president tossed into the news cycle this morning (and has now “pinned” to the top of his Twitter profile):
With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2020
Both sentences of the president’s tweet are inaccurate, but let’s take the second part first, since that’s the bit that threatens to blow a gigantic hole in 230-plus years of American democratic tradition. Election dates are set by the U.S. Constitution, by Congress, and by the states—the president has literally no authority over it.
When it comes to picking the president, there’s actually no constitutional requirement for a popular election at all. What the constitution does say is that Congress gets to pick the date by which the states must choose their presidential electors—that is, the 538 members of the electoral college. Under current law, that date is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
How the states pick those electors is up to each state legislature to decide. “While every state currently chooses its electors through popular election—where votes cast for presidential candidates are counted as votes for the electors pledged to those candidates—a state legislature could decide to select electors itself if it determined elections were infeasible,” the Congressional Research Service (CRS) noted in a March report about elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Indeed, it was common for legislatures to select electors without popular elections until the mid-1800s.”
The CRS reports that some state constitutions allow governors to postpone elections for emergencies, but there is no provision in the U.S. Constitution allowing federal officials to change the date unless Congress changes the law or a constitutional amendment is passed. But that’s never happened during wars, pandemics, or other national emergencies—ther
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