“A political firestorm” – Donald Trump suggests an Election Day delay

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On the 30th of July, Donald Trump pinned a new tweet to the top of his twitter page: “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”. This tweet breaks away from the other three tweets deriding mail-in voting published by the US President over the past 20 hours as it considers if there should be a delay to November’s Presidential Election, drawing concerns that Trump may attempt to enforce an impediment. Earlier this month, six US states (California, Utah, Hawaii, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington) announced plans to hold “all-mail” ballot elections in November given the coronavirus pandemic. According to postal voting campaign groups, further states are also considering the move.

Trump tried to legitimise the argument behind his tweet by stating that mail-in voting would be susceptible to foreign influence, “The [Democrats] talk of foreign influence in voting, but they know that mail-in voting is an easy way for foreign countries to enter the race”. The tweet exemplifies his tendency to repeat conspiracy theories surrounding mail-in voting. He has also argued that mail-in voting opens the potential for fraudulent abuse of absentee ballots: “thousands and thousands of people sitting in somebody’s living room, signing ballots all over the place”. Yet, according to numerous national and state-level studies over the years, in the largely Democrat-held states where mail-in voting has been in place for years, there is no evidence of widespread fraud. Furthermore, Trump’s concerns appear contradictory since he and members of his administration, including Vice-President Mike Pence, have previously voted by mail.

Is It Possible?

Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution states that the “Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.” Constitutionally, the President does not have the authority to postpone the election; only the Congress reserves this ability. Importantly, the postponement would require approval from both houses of Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate. Crucially, the House of Representatives is controlled by the Democrat party, whose members have staunchly rejected Trump’s suggestion. 

The Response

BBC analyst Anthony Zurcher said of Trump’s tweet that it is “sure to ignite a political firestorm”. In the direct hours since the publishing of the tweet, a voracious response forced Trump’s team to clarify the President’s intention. Campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley sought to soften the tone of the tweet, stating that “the President is just raising a question about the chaos Democrats have created with their insistence on all mail-in voting.”

Conversely, criticism of Trump’s tweet has been a unifying point of agreement between the deeply divided US political parties. Lindsay Graham, a staunch Trump ally said a delay was “not a good idea”. At the same time, broadly loyalist Senator Marco Rubio remarked: “I wish he hadn’t said that but it’s not going to change: We are going to have an election in November.” Democrats have been particularly vocal in their rejection of Trump’s tweet; Tom Udall argued that “the fact that he is even suggesting it is a serious, chilling attack on the democratic process. All members of Congress- and the administration- should speak out.” Furthermore, Ellen Weintraub, chairwoman of the US Federal Election Commission, reiterated that the President did not have the power to move the election and that ‘nor should it be moved.”

A Distraction?

Trump’s tweet comes as the USA reaches 150, 000 COVID-19 related deaths, making it by far the highest COVID-19 related national death toll globally. This has placed the Trump administration under heavy scrutiny of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, CNN reported that the tweet came minutes after the federal government declared the worst economic contraction in recorded history, leading many to consider the possibility that Trump’s tweet was an attempt to deflect attention away from the economic report.

The report found that the US economy shrank at a 32.9% annual rate between April and June as the country faced lockdowns and resulting spending cutbacks; in the same quarter a year ago, the US economy contracted 9.5%. It is the most profound decline in the economy by 20% since the government began keeping records in 1947. This report will be a significant blow to the Trump administration primarily in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and because recent polling in vital battleground states show Trump trailing or close to tied with opponent Joe Biden. 

Conclusion

During the lead up to the 2016 election, Trump stated at an Ohio rally that he would “totally accept the results”. He then clarified that he might file a legal challenge if Hillary Clinton won, accusing her of conspiring with Russia to win the election. Last week in an interview on Fox News, when asked if he would accept the results of the election, Trump said, “No, I’m not going to say ‘yes.’ I’m not going to say ‘no,’ and I didn’t last time, either.” Speculation about his tweet has included questions as to whether this tweet reflects a desperate bid to set up an excuse for potentially losing the election in November. While commentators wonder as to whether the tweet was a cover-up of the federal government’s economic report or a reflection of Trump’s election anxieties, it is clear cut that he does not hold the authority to delay the election in November.