President Donald Trump has, for the first time, publicly suggested delaying November’s presidential election—an unprecedented measure that is beyond the powers of the president.
In his latest tweet pushing his entirely unproven pet theory that mail-in ballots somehow make elections more susceptible to voter fraud, Trump wrote that holding the election during the raging pandemic would be dangerous and mulled whether it would be best to “Delay the Election until people can vote properly, securely and safely.”
Despite his posturing, Trump has absolutely no legal power to follow through on the proposal to delay the vote. His incendiary tweet came minutes after the Commerce Department announced the U.S. economy had just suffered its worst quarter on record.
It has long been predicted that Trump would try to discredit the election. Last week, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden warned donors that the president will attempt to “indirectly steal” the 2020 election by poisoning his base against the idea of mail-in ballots—a voting method that more people than ever are expected to use to minimize the risk of catching the novel coronavirus.
Hitting back at Trump’s suggestion, the frontrunner to be named Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, wrote, “Donald Trump is terrified. He knows he's going to lose to Joe Biden. It will require every single one of us to make that happen. We will see you at the ballot box on November 3rd, President Trump.”
Trump has been obsessed with the idea that mass voter fraud is undermining American elections for years, despite him and his family making full use of the service. He blatantly lied after the 2016 general election, claiming that millions of illegal votes helped Hillary Clinton defeat him in the popular vote.
The Trump administration made a very public push to try and find voter fraud with a 2017 commission, only for the panel, led by Trump ally Kris Kobach, to flame out amid controversy and a lack of results.
The president’s attacks on election integrity have only grown more pronounced during the coronavirus pandemic, with mail-in ballots becoming a healthier way for people to vote during the public health crisis. But that potential benefit has done little to quell Trump’s rage towards potential fraud, even though he has been unable to prove or show evidence that mail-in votes would lead to the kind of widespread fraud that he’s baselessly publicizing.
Trump’s tweet was met with shock Thursday morning by both election law experts and voting-rights advocates.
“The president has no authority whatsoever to delay the election,” said Josh Douglas, an election-law professor at the University of Kentucky. “It’s an attack on the legitimacy of our democracy. It’s something that every elected official, Republican and Democrat, should speak out against. All it does is undermine people’s faith in the legitimacy of our elections.”
What Trump is doing is “really scary,” Douglas said, pointing to the concern that it would “seemingly lay the groundwork to potentially contest an election that he loses.”
“There’s absolutely no evidence that there’s any sort of massive fraud from absentee balloting or mail-in voting,” Douglas said. “And he’s doing this weird thing where he’s trying to say that absentee voting and vote by mail are different when there are different flavors of vote by mail, but it’s the same thing.”
Raising conspiracies about voter fraud has become common at times for the president, especially in states that are critical to his winning re-election. On the night of Wisconsin’s disastrous primary in April, where an attempt was made to delay the contest over health worries, the president raged again about voter fraud, falsely telling reporters, “You get thousands and thousands of people sitting in somebody’s living room signing ballots all over the place.”
And in May, Trump tweeted a threat to “hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!” because he thought the state had sent absentee ballots to more than 7 million people.
That was quickly mocked by the state’s chief election official, who noted Trump was incorrect.
“We sent applications, not ballots. Just like my GOP colleagues in Iowa, Georgia, Nebraska and West Virginia,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, tweeted.
But Thursday’s tweet took the election attacks from the president to a new level.
“Across the globe we see autocrats and dictators who rig elections and promote chaos to maintain their grip on power, but this has never happened in American democracy,” said Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “And our rules are clear and the Constitution does not give the president any power to delay or postpone an election.”
The Trump campaign responded to the uproar following the president’s tweet by sending out a statement deriding Democrats and the concept of universal mail-in voting, saying, “the President is just raising a question about the chaos Democrats have created with their insistence on all mail-in voting.”