President Trump on Thursday suggested the implausible scenario of delaying the 2020 election, which would take an act of Congress.
Trump raised the audacious idea while continuing his all-out campaign against mail-in voting. He sought to contrast mail-in voting with “good” absentee voting, even though they are the same thing in most states.
“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” Trump tweeted. “It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
There is no evidence that mail-in voting would lead to widespread voter fraud, and several states already conduct elections entirely by mail. (Trump himself has voted absentee from the White House.) Many states have expanded their mail-in voting systems to limit the dangers of crowds on Election Day, when the coronavirus is expected to remain a serious threat.
The message came minutes after a report that the economy shrank at a record 32.9 percent in the second quarter of 2020, the worst mark going back to World War II. In addition, jobless filings were up for the second week in a row.
Trump’s polling has also slumped in recent months, during the government’s flailing response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 150,000 Americans, according to the latest tally from Johns Hopkins University. Republicans are increasingly worried that Trump’s unpopularity could sink their chances of holding onto the Senate.
The date of the election is decided by Congress. It is very unlikely that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has supported mail-in voting efforts this year, would agree to such a measure. Federal Election Commission head Ellen Weintraub dismissed the proposal.
“No, Mr. President,” wrote Weintraub. “No. You don’t have the power to move the election. Nor should it be moved. States and localities are asking you and Congress for funds so they can properly run the safe and secure elections all Americans want. Why don’t you work on that?”
It is within the power of the Trump campaign and Republican organizations to sue to make mail-in balloting more difficult, a tactic they have employed in advance of November’s election. Tens of thousands of absentee ballots were rejected during primaries over the last few months, including 1 in 5 in New York.
In March, Trump criticized Democratic attempts to fund mail-in voting in pandemic relief legislation and seemed to admit that he thinks increased ballot access would be bad for Republicans. He told Fox News that such expansion would lead to “levels of voting, that if you ever agreed to it you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
Trump has continually leveled false charges of massive voting conspiracies and millions of fraudulent votes, but the White House has never provided any evidence to support the claims.
But some Republicans are worried that Trump’s continued campaign against mail-in voting, a system that has previously favored the GOP in the key state of Florida, could dissuade some of his supporters from voting altogether if they also fear in-person voting amid the coronavirus.
Trump’s campaign could also lead to a situation in which he has a lead in some states when the in-person vote is counted, only to see that lead dissipate when the more Democratic mail-in votes are counted — potentially adding fuel to conspiracies.
“As Trump drives more and more of his supporters to vote in person and away from vote-by-mail, it’s quite likely that we’ll see Trump getting many more votes on election night, the votes that are counted on Election Day,” election expert Richard Hasen told Yahoo News.
“Then, four or five days later, [if] Biden becomes the winner as the absentee ballots are counted in Philadelphia or Detroit, that’s a recipe, if it’s close, for a really ugly election scenario.”
Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden previously speculated that Trump would try to push the election back. At an April fundraiser, Biden predicted: “Mark my words, I think he is going to try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can’t be held.”