Trump Signing Executive Order

Jul 30, 2020 | International, Opinion | 0 comments

Can Trump Delay the US Election?

Trump Signing Executive Order

In his latest tweet Donald Trump has threatened to postpone the November 3rd Election. But can he do so? And if not, what exactly is he up to?

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In his latest tweet Donald Trump has threatened to postpone the November 3rd Election. But can he do so? And if not, what exactly is he up to?

There is an inherent challenge in being the incumbent candidate. They are no longer the new, fresh face who can take on the Establishment; their tricks and personalities are known and weathered by a first term in office. They also understand the limitations of office, which perhaps explains why they so often struggle in the early days of their re-election campaign, as they can’t promise the sun, moon and health care reform without providing deflating clarifications or sounding like liars. Naivety can often be forgiven when found in the inexperienced.

But this is the Trump administration we are talking about. An administration that never ceases to amaze and shock even the most cynical and jaded among us. One which has never been above lying about the powers of the Presidency. So much for an olive branch.

President Trump – aiming for re-election on November 3rd – today posted a tweet which began with a claim that Universal Mail-In Voting would lead to the 2020 Presidential election being “the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history”. He then followed this by floating the idea that the US could “Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”.


This idea of a postponed election raises some serious, and interesting, questions? If it were to happen, the first question would obviously be when it would be held? If postponed beyond January 20th, wouldn’t the Twentieth Amendment – which states that both the President and Vice President’s terms in office end at noon of that day – prohibit Trump from holding the office of President?

But this is just hypothetical window dressing to the three main questions: has an election in the history of the United States ever been postponed, does the President hold the power to do so, and why is the President putting this idea forward?

The upcoming election will be the 59th consecutive quadrennial presidential election. The previous 58 were never postponed or cancelled, which is surprising when you think about it, as it means that American citizens have cast their ballot every four years since 1788 (…well when I say American citizens I of course mean white, male, land owning, tax paying American citizens – women would not get the vote until 1920 and African Americans would get it, on paper, in 1870, but in reality in 1965). Presidential elections have been held during pivotal moments in US history, including the Civil War, the First World War, the Great Depression, the Second World War. Noteworthy with regards to COVID-19 is that midterm elections were even held in November of 1918, during the Influenza epidemic which claimed the lives of about 675,000 American citizens.

But could it happen? In theory, yes…but it wouldn’t be easy or likely, and the President could not do it alone. The date the Presidential election is held has been in place since 1845 and only Congress has the power to change the date of the election, but this would require a change in federal law. Even if they were to change the date, the Twentieth Amendment would mean the election would still have to be held before the 20th of January. An election beyond this date would not be possible without a Constitutional amendment, which Congress cannot do alone. Not that any of this would even matter today as the House of Representatives is held by the Democrats and they, along with Republicans, don’t seem too pressed or interested in postponing the election.

So, if it has never happened before and the President cannot do it without Congress, why did Trump tweet it? There are numerous reasons why he might have, but the most likely is polling. Trump is trailing Biden and desperately needs to find a way to repair the damage done to his re-election campaign. If the election were to be postponed, and if the complications previously highlighted were not a factor, Trump could use the time to regain support that he has lost in the past few months, as well as adjust his campaign to reflect the current situation. The economy, which was the feather in Trump’s cap going into November, has been decimated by COVID-19. A catastrophically poor response to the pandemic, as well as his insensitive and divisive response to the Black Lives Matter protests, polls suggest that many Trump supporters have abandoned the President. More time would allow Trump to address these issues and put him in a stronger position for November.

Another likely reason for the tweet could be to delegitimise the election and its result. Trump is well known to make claims of “rigged elections” and has on multiple occasions attacked mail-in voting with little to no evidence to support his claims. With Trump down in the polls, this could be him fanning conspiratorial flames. If he were to lose in November, his supporters could erroneously claim that the election was stolen and the result illegitimate.

But irrespective of the motive, the likelihood of this ever happening is miniscule as it lacks broader support. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi posted a tweet which showed her disapproval of the idea:

On the other side of the political spectrum is Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is an outspoken supporter of the President:

At time of writing there are 96 days till the 2020 United States Presidential Election. With the gap in the polls widening between Trump and Biden, this tweet above all else seemed like a man whose numbers are in a slump and is looking for a quick fix. The President has a lot of work to do if he is serious about remaining a resident of the White House come January 20th, 2021.

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