Can Donald Trump Delay the Election?

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On July 30, President Trump suggested delaying the 2020 presidential election. In a tweet, Trump said that, since mail-in voting will play a large part in this year’s elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the election should be delayed. But can Trump actually delay the election? While the answer is generally no, there are rules in place for what would happen if Trump did attempt to postpone the election.

Trump can’t delay the election, but other politicians can

While it is possible to change the date of an election, Trump cannot delay the election. A federal statute from 1845 permanently set the Tuesday after the first Monday as the date of all yearly elections, and no president has the power to change this designation. Only Congress can change the date of an election, and few attempts have previously been made to do so. Most recently, a bill introduced in the last Congress to move elections to the weekend following the first Friday in November did not advance to a vote.

What if Trump delayed the election anyway?

A presidential candidate who wins the election does not automatically become president. First, the electoral college must meet in December, on the first Monday following the second Wednesday of the month. At this meeting, if no presidential election had yet been held, each state’s electoral votes would be assigned to a candidate of the state’s choice, whether Trump or someone else.

The electoral college sends its votes to Congress on January 6, though Congress has – unlike with election dates – previously changed this date. If the votes sent to Congress indicate no clear winner, then the House of Representatives would choose one of the three candidates with the most electoral votes to be the president. The Senate would choose the vice president.

What happens on Inauguration Day if Trump delays the election?

Even if no election occurs, Trump’s presidential term would end on Inauguration Day. If the electoral college fails to designate a president by this day, then the Speaker of the House would take over. In the event that congressional elections were postponed alongside the presidential election, the president pro-tem of the Senate would become president.

How are people reacting to Trump wanting to delay the election?

The response to Trump’s tweet about delaying the election has been almost universally negative. A leading conservative group’s co-founder who has previously defended Trump called for his impeachment in response to his tweet. Prominent Republican senators including Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, Thom Tills, and Ted Cruz criticized Trump’s suggestions, as did Republican representatives Adam Kinzinger and Kevin McCarthy. 

In their criticisms of Trump, both McCarthy and Cruz defended the president’s repeated claims that mail-in voting leads to fraud. Additionally, Trump has frequently asserted that absentee voting is good while mail-in voting is dangerous, but both these forms of voting are the same thing

Not long after Trump proposed delaying the 2020 election, he walked back his initial idea and said he does not want to see a date change. Trump remained insistent that mail-in voting would result in a corrupt election and has long said that mail-in voting leads to abundant voter fraud, but no evidence exists to support this claim.

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