In his latest assault on the American electoral system, President Donald Trump today proposed postponing the November election.
“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” Trump tweeted, offering no evidence for a debunked assertion. “It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
As Trump may or may not know, the date of the election is set by law, and would require an act of Congress to be overturned. Trump probably cannot postpone the election, the bedrock of American democracy, but the greater danger is that he can destroy its legitimacy.
The idea of a delay has been floated previously, though usually vaguely and in response to questions. Jared Kushner refused to rule it out, and the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, has warned that Trump would try to postpone the election, though the president has previously affirmed November 3 as Election Day. This time is different, because Trump is raising the idea of his own volition.
While Trump has shown little regard for the rule of law, and his aides have often broken the law with the confidence that they wouldn’t be punished, this proposal is still likely a dead letter. The major dates of the election and presidential term of office are set by law and by the Constitution. According to the law, Election Day is held the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Changing that would require Congress to change the law, and it is unlikely, to put things mildly, that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic House would agree to any such delay.