Trump floats idea of delaying Nov. 3 vote, but Congress controls election date

U.S. President Donald Trump for the first time floated a "delay" to November's presidential election, as he made unsubstantiated allegations that increased mail-in voting will result in fraud.

Twitter previously affixed warning to Trump tweet with dubious claims about mail-in voting

In a tweet on Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump raised the spectre of postponing the Nov. 3 election. (AP)

U.S. President Donald Trump is for the first time floating a "delay" to November's presidential election, as he makes unsubstantiated allegations that increased mail-in voting will result in fraud.

The dates of federal elections — the Tuesday after the first Monday in November — are enshrined in federal law and would require an act of Congress to change. The Constitution makes no provisions for a delay to the Jan. 20, 2021, presidential inauguration.

Trump tweeted Thursday: "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???"

His tweet came within the same hour of bad economic news. The government reported that the U.S. economy shrank at a dizzying 32.9 per cent annual rate in the April-June quarter, by far the worst quarterly plunge ever.

Most grimly, more than 150,000 Americans have now died.

Reaction was swift on social media to Trump's tweet on Thursday.

"This would be nothing less than a coup against the people of the United States and the constitution," tweeted veteran California congresswoman Jackie Speier.

While Trump's tweet was unsurprisingly condemned immediately by many Democrats, Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso also dismissed the suggestion. (Al Drago/The Associated Press)

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy accused Trump of "attempting to undermine the legitimacy of the election."

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, was one of the first Republicans to pour cold water on Trump's suggestion in a televised interview.

"No, we're not going to delay the election," he told Fox Business Network on Thursday morning. "We're going to have the election completed and voting completed by Election Day. It's going to take awhile to get all the votes counted, I am certain."

Top Republicans in Congress soon followed in agreement. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the election date is set in stone, while House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said the election "should go forward" as planned.

Voter fraud rare

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud through mail-in voting, even in states with all-mail votes. Five states already rely exclusively on mail-in ballots, and they say they have necessary safeguards in place to ensure that a hostile foreign actor doesn't disrupt the vote.

Election security experts say that all forms of voter fraud are rare, including absentee balloting.

Twitter has previously affixed a warning to a Trump tweet about mail voting that contained dubious claims.

Trump has increasingly sought to cast doubt on November's election and the expected surge in mail-in and absentee voting as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. He has called remote voting options the "biggest risk" to his re-election.

His campaign and the Republican Party have sued to combat the practice, which was once a significant advantage for the GOP.

Last month, Trump told supporters in Arizona that "This will be, in my opinion, the most corrupt election in the history of our country."

Cages loaded with ballots in United Postal Service bins rest behind a worker at a Board of Elections facility on July 22 in New York. During recent primaries in the state, some races required weeks before results were officially confirmed. (John Minchillo/The Associated Press)

Hogan Gidley, the Trump campaign's lead spokesperson, downplayed the tweet while pointing to the delays in counting votes in New York's recent primary.

"The president is just raising a question about the chaos Democrats have created with their insistence on all mail-in voting," said Gidley. "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. "

Trump and many members of his administration have previously availed themselves of absentee voting, but Trump has sought to differentiate that from a growing push by states to mail all registered voters either ballots or absentee request forms.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who has on more than one occasion predicted Trump will try to "steal" the election, said in a tweet this week: "Donald Trump voted by mail. You should be able to as well."

Voters and public health officials have expressed concerns about the potential dangers for spreading the virus during in-person voting, and states have reported difficulty filling poll worker positions given the pandemic.

Legislative changes may be required in some states. According to a Yahoo! News report on Thursday, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania currently do not allow for election officials to start processing early ballots until Election Day.

State leaders also pushed back on Trump Thursday.

"Our voting system in NH is secure, safe, and reliable. We have done it right 100 per cent of the time for 100 years — this year will be no different," said Republican Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire.

Democrats have pushed to include billions of dollars in the next coronavirus relief bill to fund election security and accessibility improvements for this year's vote, but Trump and Republicans have so far resisted those efforts.

Postal Service concerns

In a recent interview with Fox News, Trump was evasive when pressed to answer whether he would accept the results of the Nov. 3 vote.

"I have to see," he told interviewer Chris Wallace. "No, I'm not going to just say yes. I'm not going to say no and I didn't last time, either."

Trump in fact set up a commission to examine his unfounded claim that "millions" of votes for Hillary Clinton in 2016 were fraudulent. The commission quietly faded away, having not substantiated the claim.

William Barr, his attorney general, testified at a House committee hearing on Wednesday, without offering evidence, that "if you have wholesale mail-in voting, it substantially increases the risk of fraud."

Democrats have also raised concern, given the likelihood of increased mail voting, over recent developments at the U.S. Postal Service.

There have been reports of increased delays in receiving mail amid budget concerns, while Trump has installed a Republican donor — Louis DeJoy, the husband of the incoming U.S. ambassador to Canada, Aldona Wos — to the USPS's top post.

With files from CBC News

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