The law is very clear about this.
Trump, facing cratering poll numbers and the likelihood of an embarrassing
defeat in November, suggested the country should “Delay the Election” due to
false fears of voter fraud:
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???
· Jul 30, 2020
deal first with Trump’s claim that “Universal Mail-In Voting” will somehow lead
to inaccurate or fraudulent results. There is no evidence whatsoever supporting
mail-in voting refers to a practice where states automatically mail a ballot to
all registered voters within the state — a ballot that can then be cast by mail
or returned in-person to various polling sites. According to the Brennan Center
for Justice, seven states — California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah,
Vermont, and Washington — are vote-by-mail states.
is not a new practice. Oregon became the first state to adopt this practice in
2000. Since then, the state has provided over 100 million mail-in ballots to
voters since 2000. It has only documented 12 cases of fraud.
then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, a Trump appointee spoke
to Colorado election officials and effusively praised the vote-by-mail state as
a model of safe and secure elections. “We’d love to continue to use you as an
example of what other states can adopt,” Trump’s homeland security secretary
told the Colorado election officials at the time.
isn’t simply using false fears to justify delaying the November election — he’s
using false fears that his own administration rejected as recently as two years
brings us to the question of whether Trump can actually delay, or even cancel,
the election. The short answer to this question is “no.”
of federal laws set Election Day for presidential electors, senators, and US
representatives as “the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November.” If
Republicans want to change this law, they would need to go through the
Amendment, moreover, provides that “the terms of the President and the Vice
President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January.” Thus, even if the
election were somehow canceled, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence’s terms
would still expire as scheduled — although, as explained below, the question of
who would succeed them is devilishly complicated.
necessarily mean that the November election is safe. Republican state governors
and legislatures may still manipulate their own election rules to give an
advantage to Trump. But Trump does not have the lawful power to delay or cancel
to decide when an election is held?
are different sets of rules for congressional elections and presidential
congressional elections, the Constitution provides that “the times, places and
manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be
prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at
any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of
choosing Senators.” This means that both Congress and state lawmakers have
control over when a congressional election is held, but Congress has the final
word if there’s a disagreement.
has set the date of House and Senate elections for “the Tuesday next after the
1st Monday in November.” Neither Trump nor any state official has the power to
alter this date. Only a subsequent act of Congress could do so.
picture for presidential elections is slightly more complicated. A federal
statute does provide that “the electors of President and Vice President shall
be appointed, in each State, on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in
November,” so states must choose members of the Electoral College on the same
day as a congressional election takes place.
said, there is technically no constitutional requirement that a state must hold
an election to choose members of the Electoral College. The Constitution
provides that “each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature
thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators
and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.” So a
state legislature could theoretically decide to select presidential electors
out of a hat. More worrisome, a legislature controlled by one party could
potentially appoint loyal members of that party directly to the Electoral
while state lawmakers theoretically have this power, the idea that presidents
are chosen by popular election is now so ingrained into our culture that it is
highly unlikely any state legislature would try to appoint electors directly.
By 1832, every US state except South Carolina used a popular election to choose
members of the Electoral College. South Carolina came around in the 1860s.
once a state decides to hold an election to choose members of the Electoral
College, all voters must be afforded equal status. As the Supreme Court
explained in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections (1966), “once the franchise
is granted to the electorate, lines may not be drawn which are inconsistent
with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
even if a state did decide to appoint electors directly, that would require the
state to enact a law changing its method of selecting members of the Electoral
College. Several crucial swing states, including Wisconsin, Michigan,
Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, have Democratic governors who could veto such
which is a long way of saying that the risk that an election will be outright
canceled — or that a state may try to take the power to remove President Trump
away from its people — is exceedingly low.
but if the election is canceled, what happens then?
presume, for just a moment, that the election does not happen as scheduled, for
whatever reason. Who does that leave in charge? It turns out that the answer to
this question is surprisingly complicated, and it may turn on whether at least
one state manages to name individuals to the Electoral College.
up. This is about to get really deep into the constitutional weeds.
Amendment provides that after the members of the Electoral College are chosen,
those electors shall meet and cast their ballots, and “the person having the
greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number
be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed.”
unclear what happens if only some states hold the presidential election as
scheduled, while others fail to appoint electors at all, but the 12th
Amendment’s text (“a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed”)
suggests that the total number of electors needed to choose a president
declines if some states do not appoint anyone to the Electoral College. If only
100 electors are appointed, 51 electoral votes could potentially be enough to
choose a president.
to say, this quirk of the Constitution’s text gives every state an incentive to
hold their election. If a bloc of red states delays the election, while blue
states do not, Republicans could effectively forfeit the Electoral College
let’s say that no one wins a majority of the electors. If that happens, the
power to choose a president falls to the House — but with a twist. If the House
is called upon to choose a president, it must choose one of the three
candidates who received the most electoral votes. Moreover, each state’s
congressional delegation has only one vote, and “a majority of all the states
shall be necessary to a choice.”
Democrats have a substantial majority in the US House as a whole, Republicans
control a majority of the House seats in 26 states — just enough to choose a
president. That said, this number could easily change. In many states, one
party controls only one or two seats more than the other. If a handful of House
members are incapacitated due to coronavirus, that could potentially alter the
outcome of a House vote to choose the president.
let’s shift gears to a scenario where no members of the Electoral College are
appointed. In this scenario, the House cannot choose a president because the
12th Amendment requires it to choose from among the three candidates who
receive the most electoral votes.
the 20th Amendment, “the terms of the President and the Vice President shall
end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and
Representatives at noon on the 3d [sic] day of January.” So, if no one is
elected to replace these officials, Trump and Pence cease to be elected
officials the minute their terms expire on January 20. Members of the House
serve two-year terms, so all members of the House will cease to be
representatives on January 3; one-third of senators’ terms also expire on that date.
if the presidency and vice presidency are both vacant at the same time, the
office falls to the speaker of the House. But if there is no election, there
will be no speaker when Trump and Pence’s terms expire because all House seats
will become vacant on January 3.
is no president, vice president, or speaker, the next official in line is the
president pro tempore of the Senate, a largely ceremonial position that is
traditionally held by the most senior member of the majority party. Right now
that is Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).
wait! Recall that the terms of many senators also expire on January 3. As it
turns out, 23 seats held by Republicans and only 12 seats held by Democrats are
up for election this year, so if no election is held, Democrats will have a
majority in the Senate once these seats become vacant. Which would mean that
Senate Democrats would be able to choose a new president pro tempore. If they
follow the tradition of choosing the most senior member of their caucus, that
would place Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) next in line for the presidency.
actually get even more complicated from here. The 17th Amendment permits state
governors to name temporary senators to vacant seats, but not all states allow
their governors to do so. It’s also not immediately clear who would be the
governor of many states if no election takes place in 2020, because much of the
line of succession in those states could be rendered vacant as well.
event, if you’ve read this far, your eyes are probably glazing over by now. The
quirks of presidential succession provide fodder for constitutional lawyers to
chew over, but, at the end of the day, the federal government’s power flows
from the consent of the people. We allow our leaders to govern because we trust
that they’ve been selected in a constitutionally valid process. And we trust
that process because it is, at least, vaguely comprehensible.
someone starts calling themselves “president” because they were chosen by a
subset of a Senate that is missing a third of its members, a likely outcome is
civil unrest — especially in a nation that is already on edge because of the
extraordinary measures needed to check the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
exceedingly unlikely event that the 2020 election is canceled, the result isn’t
likely to be an extended term for President Trump. The most likely result is