Trump floats delaying election over mail-in voting, legal experts say that power rests with Congress
David Jackson, Joey Garrison, John Fritze | USA TODAY | Jul 30 2020
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Thursday raised the prospect of delaying the November election because of the COVID-19 pandemic, though the president lacks the legal authority to delay elections on his own.
The idea drew bipartisan alarm and election experts noted a president does not have the power to change the date of an election. Others suggested Trump is seeking to sow doubt about the election results or distract from a new government report that found a historic contraction in the nation's economy.
Trump broached the subject of a delay in a tweet in which he complained about potential problems with mail-in voting, a concern he has floated without citing specific evidence for months. Tacked onto the usual complaint, Trump added: "Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???"
The date of the presidential election is set by federal law, meaning Congress, not the president, has the power to change it, according to Edward Foley, a law professor from Ohio State University and an election law expert.
“The president has no power here,” Foley said. “Congress has the power. I can’t foresee Congress changing the date of the election.”
Even if the president and Congress wanted to delay the election, it would be a very tough climb legally, analysts said.
The U.S. Constitution requires congressional elections every two years. To hold congressional and presidential elections together, a delayed presidential election would still need to take place in 2020.
Delaying a presidential election would be unprecedented – the nation did not do so even during the Civil War and World War II.
But Trump's tweet nevertheless drew criticism from Democrats and Republicans for once again sowing doubt about the accuracy of elections.
Ari Fleischer, former spokesman for President George W. Bush, told Trump in a tweet: "Mr. President - please don’t even pretend to mess with this. It’s a harmful idea."
Democrats denounced the idea. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tweeted the language of the U.S. Constitution at Trump: "The Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”