Trump’s threat came minutes after the federal government reported the worst economic contraction ever recorded.
Update: This article has been updated with additional reaction from senators.
President Donald Trump tweeted a threat to delay November’s presidential election Thursday morning, falsely claiming that mail-in voting is “inaccurate,” despite the fact that numerous studies have shown mail-in voting is a safe way to cast a ballot.
The president does not have the power to delay the presidential election. It would take an act of Congress to change the federal laws that designate the presidential election as “the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November.”
At first, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would not answer questions from reporters Thursday morning about a delayed election.
But according to a Kentucky reporter Max Winitz, McConnell said the election date was “set in stone” and had been successfully held during past crises. The interview is expected to air Thursday night.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who is facing a tough re-election this November, refused to talk about the president’s threat.
In contrast, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said mail-in voting works “extremely well” and that “of course we are going to have an election on time. It’s unthinkable that that would not be the case.”
Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND) both said they did not support a delayed election. Cramer said the president was using the threat as a “distraction.”
Marc Elias, a lawyer who worked on Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 and is an expert on voter suppression, said in an email that even if Congress moved the date of the election—which is almost certainly not going to happen with a Democratic House—Trump would still have to leave office.
“Election Day is set by act of Congress and only Congress can change the date. Even if Congress moved the date, Trump’s term expires on January 20, 2021—and that cannot be moved except by a new constitutional amendment,” Elias wrote.
The 20th amendment means President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence would no longer hold their positions when their term expires, even without an election. In that case, according to the Presidential Succession Act, the presidency would move to the Speaker of the House, which would very likely still be Democrat Nancy Pelosi.
Still, the coronavirus pandemic that was made worse by Trump’s inaction has made voting in person more challenging. There are a couple techniques that states could use to help get residents to vote. The first is a robust vote-by-mail system, which would allow voters to cast their ballots at the mailbox instead of at the polls. States like Washington and Oregon have had successful and secure vote-by-mail systems in place for years.