Petrified President Donald Trump Thursday suggested postponement of November’s general election, citing his unsubstantiated assertions of widespread mail-in voter fraud amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
The president’s extraordinary proposal, which he is not constitutionally empowered to enforce, represents his first attempt at floating a suspension of the election less than 100 days away.
Virtually all public polling of the White House race shows Trump trailing by significant margins nationally and in battleground states, and his tweet Thursday morning came minutes after the Commerce Department reported the pandemic had inflicted the worst economic contraction in modern American history.
As the Covid-19 outbreak in the United States has worsened in recent months, prominent Democrats have cautioned that the president may seek to seize upon the public health crisis to question the legitimacy of the election or even defy its results.
“Mark my words, I think he is going to try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can’t be held,” former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said in April.
Trump rejected Biden’s warning days later at a news briefing conducted by the White House coronavirus task force.
“I never even thought of changing the date of the election,” he said. “Why would I do that? November 3rd. It’s a good number. No, I look forward to that election.
Trump’s reelection team was similarly dismissive at the time of Biden’s remarks.
“Those are the incoherent, conspiracy theory ramblings of a lost candidate who is out of touch with reality,” Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director, said in a statement.
“Joe Biden’s conspiracy theory is irresponsible and has no basis in reality,” Matt Wolking, the Trump campaign’s deputy communications director, tweeted.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner generated controversy in May when he said he was unsure whether he could “commit one way or the other” to hold the election as scheduled.
The president’s son-in-law sought to clarify his comments hours later, saying he had not been involved in and was unaware of “any discussions about trying to change the date of the presidential election.”
Biden has argued that while the coronavirus might force changes to the way voting is conducted, the election should not be delayed.
“I’d much prefer to have on — you know, in-person voting, but it depends. It depends on the state of play,” he said in April. “But we cannot, we cannot delay or postpone a constitutionally required November election.”
The date for the presidential election has been set in law by Congress since 1845 as the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
In a statement provided Thursday to POLITICO, Hogan Gidley, the Trump campaign’s national press secretary, said the president’s tweet was “just raising a question about the chaos Democrats have created with their insistence on all mail-in voting.”
“They are using coronavirus as their means to try to institute universal mail-in voting, which means sending every registered voter a ballot whether they asked for one or not,” Gidley said, adding that “universal mail-in voting invites chaos and severe delays in results.”
The Trump campaign has sought to draw a distinction between universal mail-in voting and absentee voting, similar to how the president did in his tweet Thursday.
Justin Clark, Trump’s deputy campaign manager, told POLITICO earlier this month that Democrats were working to sow confusion ahead of the election and fundamentally change the process by which the country votes.
“Contrary to what some in the media and on the left claim, there are significant differences between absentee voting and universal vote-by-mail,” Clark said in a statement.
“If a voter can’t make it to the polls, they can request an absentee ballot,” he said, repeating his claims about fraud affecting “100% vote-by-mail” elections.
However, the president often muddles the two terms, and the Trump campaign has refused to clarify his positions on voting by mail.
The Trump campaign did not answer a list of specific questions from POLITICO earlier this month, instead providing only Clark’s statement.
POLITICO asked if the president supports no-excuse absentee voting, or if he thinks all voters should have a valid excuse to vote absentee.
The majority of states allow for no-excuse absentee voting, meaning anyone can request an absentee ballot.
POLITICO also asked whether the president still opposes mailing out absentee ballot request forms, not the ballots themselves, after criticizing such a policy in Michigan.
Trump has tweeted that absentee ballots “are a great way to vote for the many senior citizens, military, and others who can’t get to the polls on Election Day.” He deemed them to be “fine” because “a person has to go through a process to get and use them.”
Voting rights experts say there is no difference between the terms mail-in voting and absentee voting, and some jurisdictions such as Florida have scrubbed the latter term to avoid confusion among voters.
Republicans have actively promoted requesting absentee ballots in no-excuse states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
In November, 42 states and the District of Columbia will effectively allow for, at a minimum, no-excuse absentee balloting — meaning any voter, regardless of age, health or location on Election Day will be able to vote by mail should they choose to do so.
Of those states, just seven are planning to proactively mail every voter a ballot. Five do it as a regular course — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — while California and Vermont, along with Washington, D.C., have announced their intention to do so because of the pandemic.
An analysis last month of voting in three of those states that send ballots routinely found that officials identified an infinitesimal amount of potentially fraudulent ballots.
House Democrats did pass a bill in May that would mandate all voters to be sent a ballot in the case of an emergency, along with other sweeping changes to the American electoral system.
But the legislation faces ardent opposition from Senate Republicans, and it is exceedingly unlikely to become law.
The remaining eight states, including the large states of Texas and New York, require a valid excuse for a voter to request an absentee ballot for November.
Despite the president’s repeated insistence to the contrary, cases of election fraud in the United States are exceedingly rare.
Experts acknowledge there are some slightly higher fraud risks associated with mail-in balloting when proper security measures are not put in place.
Beyond his allegations of potential voter fraud, Trump has also claimed that mail-in voting would yield unfavorable electoral results for the Republican Party.
Nonetheless, GOP political operatives have embraced vote-by-mail, and a recent study found that it does not benefit one party over another.
Roughly 57.2 million Americans participated in the 2016 election via early, absentee or mail-in voting, including active-duty military who live either overseas or in the U.S. outside their home voting jurisdiction. That total represented 2 in 5 of all ballots cast.
Trump voted by mail in Florida’s primary in March, and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has repeatedly voted in Florida while out of state — including when she worked in Washington and had a New Jersey driver’s license that indicated she was not a Florida resident.
The president’s accusations of voter fraud extend back to the 2016 election and do not apply exclusively to voting by mail.
During his previous campaign for the White House, Trump promoted various theories preemptively casting doubt on the results of the “rigged” election, including his claim that 1.8 million dead people “are registered to vote, and some of them absolutely vote.”
After he was elected in November 2016, Trump claimed without evidence that millions of people voting illegally cost him the popular vote.
And in 2018, he disbanded a controversial commission that was charged with investigating his unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud during the election.