WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump, lagging in the polls and grappling with deepening economic and public health crises, on Thursday floated the startling idea of delaying the Nov. 3 presidential election. His campaign to sow doubt about the election's outcome drew immediate pushback from Democrats and Republicans alike in a nation that has held itself up as a beacon to the world for its history of peaceful transfer of power.
Trump suggested the delay as he pushed unsubstantiated allegations that increased mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic would result in fraud. But shifting Election Day is virtually impossible, and the very idea represented another bracing attempt by Trump to undermine confidence in the American political system.
The date of the presidential election – the Tuesday after the first Monday in November in every fourth year – is enshrined in federal law and would require an act of Congress to change.
Top Republicans in Congress quickly rebuffed Trump's suggestion. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the election date is set in stone, and House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy said the election “should go forward” as planned. Regardless, the Constitution makes no provisions for a delay in the end of Trump's term – noon on Jan. 20, 2021.
“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” Trump tweeted Thursday. “It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
After facing blowback from Republicans for even floating a delay, Trump appeared to retreat on Twitter on Thursday afternoon, suggesting he was merely trying to highlight alleged problems with mail-in balloting. “Do I want to see a date changed, no,” Trump said later during a press conference on the coronavirus response. “But I don't want to see a crooked election.”
Trump has increasingly sought to cast doubt on November's election and the expected pandemic-induced surge in mail-in and absentee voting. He has called remote voting options the “biggest risk” to his reelection. His campaign and party have sued to combat the practice, which was once a significant advantage for the GOP.
In fact, only five states conduct elections entirely by mail, although more states expect to rely more heavily on mail-in ballots in November because of the virus outbreak. Experts assess that delays in counting mail-in ballots could mean results won't be known on Election Day.
With just over three months until Election Day, Trump trails in the polls nationally and across battleground states, and some surveys even suggest that traditionally Republican-leaning states could be in play. While Trump has come back before after trailing consistently in the polls throughout 2016, the survey data has raised the possibility that he could face a landslide loss if he doesn't turn things around.
There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud through mail-in voting, and the states that use it exclusively say they have necessary safeguards in place to ensure that a hostile foreign actor doesn't disrupt the vote.
So far, at least six states have confirmed they will send mail ballot request forms to voters, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU's Law School.