US Elections 2020: Why Trump cannot delay the election + plus truth about mail-in voting

The president suggested postponing the presidential election in a tweet on Thursday July 30, but he doesn’t have that power

Donald Trump boards Air Force One in Maryland on 29 July.

Donald Trump boards Air Force One in Maryland on 29 July. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

in New York – The Guardian – Published onThu 30 Jul 2020 18.18 BST

No. The president cannot act on his own to move the date of the election. The constitution gives state legislatures and Congress the ability to set the dates of elections. It does not give the president any power to do so.         

Article 2 of the US constitution, which outlines the powers of the executive branch, specifically gives Congress the power to set the “time” when states choose their presidential electors. In 1845, Congress set the day for choosing presidential electors as Tuesday following the first Monday in November in a presidential election year. Congress could move the date of the election by changing the law, but the president could not unilaterally do so.

“If there is no new president-elect (or V-P-elect), then the Twentieth Amendment calls for an Acting President on noon on January 20, with Congress having written a statute that would put the Speaker next in line,” Ned Foley, a professor at the Ohio State University, wrote in an email. The speaker is currently Nancy Pelosi.

If Trump can’t move the election, why is he tweeting about it?

For months, Trump has been laying the groundwork to contest the legitimacy of the 2020 election. He has falsely claimed that mail-in ballots, expected in record numbers this year because of Covid-19, will lead to votes being stolen and the election being “rigged”.

Trump’s tweets have also long been considered a distraction tactic from other national news cycles – most recently, the economic downturn.

Does Trump have a point that vote by mail will lead to fraud?

Trump and other Republicans argue that voting by mail is dangerous because, unlike in-person, a person other than the voter takes custody of the ballot. But several studies have shown that mail-in voting does not lead to more fraud. A Washington Post analysis of 14.6m votes cast in three states that automatically mail a ballot to all voters found just 372 cases of double voting or voting on behalf of a dead person. A different study of voter fraud cases maintained by the conservative Heritage Foundation found just 143 cases of criminal convictions involving absentee ballots over the last 20 years. That amounts to 0.00006% of total votes cast during that period.

States have a number of measures in place to prevent fraud. Many states allow voters to track their mail-in ballots, giving them confidence that it was received in the mail. Many states compare the signature on the ballot to the one on file with election officials, a practice, if done carefully, that can prevent fraud. Some states restrict who can collect a mail-in ballot or even require ballots to be signed by a witness or notary (Democrats and voting rights groups are challenging these kinds of restrictions in many states, saying they are needlessly restrictive during Covid-19).

Trump and conservative groups argue that even a small number of fraudulent votes can tip an election and have pointed to a recent case of suspected fraud involving mail-in ballots in Paterson, New Jersey, to support that idea. But local officials there told the Washington Post that they don’t believe the problem there is symptomatic of widespread fraud and that it was uncovered by election officials.

Will mail-in voting hurt Trump and other Republicans?

There’s no evidence that mail-in voting will hurt Trump. A study from Stanford researchers earlier this year showed that mail-in voting on the whole does not benefit Democrats or Republicans. In some states, such as Florida, Republicans have long relied on mail-in voting as a reliable way to get out the vote among supporters.

There is some concern that Trump’s rhetoric around mail-in voting could actually put Republicans at a disadvantage this fall. Even as Trump has railed against mail-in voting Republicans have urged their supporters to request mail-in ballots. In Florida and North Carolina, local Republican parties have sent mailers to their supporters with images of selectively edited Trump tweets urging them to request mail-in ballots, according to the Associated Press.

Trump keeps highlighting problems with vote by mail, like ballots getting delayed in the mail and rejected for various issues. Is he right?

There are legitimate worries about the capacity of states and the United States Postal Service (USPS) to manage elections this fall. Many states are not used to seeing a large volume of mail-in votes and local election officials have been overwhelmed by the flood of absentee ballot requests and the ballots themselves. There is also concern that USPS, which is reportedly considering slowing down mail delivery because of a budget shortfall, will be unable to deliver ballots in a timely manner.

States also can reject absentee ballots for a number of reasons – they might arrive late, the signature on the ballot might not match the one on file, or they might not be properly sealed. There’s concern that as more people vote by mail this year, more people are going to have their ballots rejected.

These are all valid concerns – but neither Trump nor Republicans in Congress have done much to fix them. States need an estimated $4bn to adequately prepare for vote by mail, but Congress has allocated just $400m so far. The most recent Republican Covid-19 relief proposal in the Senate contained no additional funding to states to help them run elections. Advocates also say USPS desperately needs an injection of federal funding, but that also has stalled in Congress.

States can reduce the number of ballot rejections by requiring election officials to notify voters before they reject their ballot, a requirement in place in fewer than 20 states. Many states also require election officials to reject ballots that arrive after election day, regardless of when they were placed in the mail. Democrats have filed a slew of lawsuits across the country seeking to require states to count ballots as long as they are postmarked by election day and arrive in the days after. The Trump campaign has not supported those efforts.

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  • Ron Saywack  On 08/03/2020 at 9:45 am

    There is a real possibility that Donald Trump may refuse to leave office if he loses the November 3 elections. All the signs are there:

    a) first, he refused, by constitutional mandate, to turn over relevant documents to Congress as well as to allow key witnesses to testify at his impeachment trial.

    There are three co-equal branches of government in the United States. By the provisions of the Constitution, a president cannot refuse to comply with orders from the other branches. Yet, that is exactly what Trump did as his Republican colleagues shamelessly acquiesced;

    b) on June 01, 2020, Trump used violent means to disperse peaceful protesters at Lafayette Square as a military chopper hovered low overhead, and a top army general, Mark Milley, was seen in military fatigues for Trump’s empty photo op in front of St John’s Church. Who was paying attention to notice another red flag?

    c) he ominously sends, or threatens to send, federal troops into U.S. cities to keep “law and order” against strong objections from local officials;

    d) he keeps questioning the legitimacy of the upcoming general election and falsely claims that there will be widespread mail-in fraud when there no evidence to support it.

    All the signs are there that Trump may attempt to install himself as a dictator. Will he succeed? My guess is, he will not. But who knows?

    In 1787, after the framers had arduously finished crafting the Constitution, an astute woman, Elizabeth Willing Power, at a private gathering (dinner party) at her townhouse near Independence Hall in Philadelphia, curiously asked Benjamin Franklin, “What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Ben thoughtfully replied, “a republic if you can keep it.”

    Indeed, how prescient were those words!

    Ron Saywack.

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