President Donald Trump has raised the idea of delaying the Nov. 3 U.S. elections, an idea immediately rejected by both Democrats and his fellow Republicans in Congress – the sole branch of government with the authority to make such a change.
Critics and even Trump’s allies dismissed the notion as an unserious attempt to distract from devastating economic news, but some legal experts warned that his repeated attacks could undermine his supporters’ faith in the election process.
Trump’s statement on Twitter comes as the United States is enduring a multi-pronged, once-in-a-generation crisis: a coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 150,000 lives, a crippling recession sparked by the outbreak, and nationwide protests against police violence and racism.
On Thursday morning, the government reported the worst U.S. economic contraction since the Great Depression: 32.9% in the second quarter.
Trump claimed that ramped up mail voting would be rife with fraud, but praised absentee voting, which is also done by mail.
“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,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
At a White House news conference later in the day, Trump did not repeat his call for an election delay but said he was worried about fraud and a long wait for results from counting mail ballots.
The United States has held elections for more than 200 years, including during the Civil War, the Great Depression and two world wars.
Article II of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to set the timing of elections, and the 20th Amendment ends a president and vice president’s term in office on the Jan. 20 following a general election.
Multiple congressional Republicans – including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and top House of Representatives Republican Kevin McCarthy – rejected the idea.
“Never in the history of the federal elections have we ever not held an election and we should go forward with our election,” said McCarthy.
Democratic U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren, who chairs the House committee overseeing election security, also rejected any delay.
Trump wrote on Twitter later on Thursday that Americans needed to know the election results on the night of the voting, not days or months later. Mail-in ballots can sometimes take longer to count.
Democrats are preparing for fights over absentee ballots, potential voting recounts and the possibility that Trump’s Republican supporters will seek to intimidate voters at the polls.
The truly dangerous part of Trump’s tweet on Thursday was not his suggestion of delaying the election which is a “fantasy” but his latest claim that voting by mail is rife with fraud, according to Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Marymount University and a constitutional law expert.