US President Donald Trump on Thursday said that the November presidential election might have to be delayed, citing unsubstantiated claims that mail-in voting could result in fraud.
Critics immediately slammed the idea, which the president does not have the power to execute unilaterally, and cast it as an attempt to distract from grim economic news, poor polling numbers and the coronavirus pandemic.
“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???” Trump tweeted.
The date of the election – the Tuesday after the first Monday in November – is enshrined in the US Constitution. It would require an act of Congress to alter, which would be difficult to pass in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to Trump’s suggestion by tweeting a passage from the Constitution assigning Congress the power to determine the election date.
Trump has been pushing hard to block the expansion of postal voting in states around the country. The movement was growing, as part of an effort to making voting easier, but gained momentum amid fears about coronavirus spreading as people gather at polling stations.
There is no evidence to support the idea that either absentee or mail-in ballots contribute to voter fraud.
The president’s move is likely to raise concerns about possible attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the election.
In a Fox News interview earlier this month, Trump refused to commit to accepting the results if he lost the presidency, saying: “I have to see, I’m not going to just say yes.”
The Republican president is seeking a second term on November 3.
Both in national polls and surveys in some swing states, Trump is trailing his rival, the Democratic candidate Joe Biden, a former vice president, by large numbers.
Voters say they are increasingly disappointed by the US administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to the deaths of more than 150,000 people in the United States, far more than in any other country.
The pandemic has also battered the economy, which had long been Trump’s strongest point. The president has said he expects the economy to quickly rebound, but the number of virus cases has surged in recent weeks, hurting a fragile economic recovery.
Trump’s tweet came minutes after the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported the economy shrank a record 32.9 per cent on the year in the second quarter, and Labor Department data showed increasing numbers of people are seeking unemployment benefits.
Democrats and some Republicans were quick to condemn the president’s suggestion, calling it an attempt to distract voters.
“There is no way @POTUS can delay the election. We shouldn’t let him distract us from his #COVID19 incompetence,” Democratic Senator Tom Udall tweeted. “But the fact that he is even suggesting it is a serious, chilling attack on the democratic process.”
Ari Fleischer, who was White House press secretary under Republican President George W Bush, called it “a harmful idea,” not one that “anyone, especially POTUS, should float.”
“We are a democracy, not a dictatorship. The Constitution empowers Congress to set the date of the election, and Congress set that date for November. Nothing President Trump says, does, or tweets can change that fact,” the American Civil Liberties Union said.