US President Donald Trump’s tweet on Thursday, 30 July, suggesting he wanted to delay this year’s election because of his concerns about mail-in voting, caused huge ripples in political circles.
Although the Trump campaign’s national press secretary, Hogan Gidley, told Politico the president’s tweet was "just raising a question about the chaos Democrats have created with their insistence on all mail-in voting" and was not calling for the November election to be delayed, the damage had been done.
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???— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2020
So what would happen if this year's election could not go ahead on 3 November?
Why Are US Elections Always in November?
Under the US constitution presidents and vice-presidents must seek election every four years and in 1845 a federal law fixed that date as the "first Tuesday after the first Monday in November."
In 1848 Zachary Taylor, a Whig, defeated Lewis Cass and Martin Van Buren in the first presidential election to be held on that first Tuesday in November.
President Trump and his Vice President, Mike Pence, were both elected in November 2016 but not inaugurated until January 2017 and their terms of office would expire on 20 January 2021.
Woohoo. #PresidentPelosi. Your term ends 12:00 20 January 2021.— Mr. Spock 🖖 (Commentary) (@SpockResists) July 30, 2020
But really your tweet is distracting from this. 👇👇👇
GDP falls by record 33%, and more than 1.43M people file for unemployment benefits for the first time.
The US President’s end of term date is set by Congress and cannot be extended without their approval.
So Who Would Take Over as Acting President?
Social media, meanwhile, has been full of rumours that if the November election was postponed Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, would have to take over as President.
The idea of Pelosi - a Democrat and a thorn in Trump’s side throughout his time in the White House - taking over would be the complete opposite of what the President presumably envisaged in his tweet.
But the #PresidentPelosi tweets seem to have been based on a misunderstanding of the US constitution.
Although Pelosi is third in line for the White House and would take over if Trump and Pence were both to die in office before the end of the year, her term of office also runs out in January 2021.
Who wants to tell the people trending "President Pelosi" that subject to a delayed election, her term is also up in January?— Stephen L. Miller (@redsteeze) July 30, 2020
Members of the House of Representatives are elected for two years and Pelosi, who is 80, is also standing for re-election in California’s 12 district (San Francisco) on 3 November.
If the presidential election was delayed, then so to would the congressional elections, as well as those for state governors.
If Congress delays Elex, #PresidentPelosi is actually not right. It would be #PresidentGrassley (R-IA)— Evan Koslof (@ekoslof) July 30, 2020
Here's why: @realDonaldTrump, & @VP would need to be out by Jan. 20. Congress, including 3rd in line @SpeakerPelosi by Jan 3.
4th in line is Sen Pro Temp @ChuckGrassley @wusa9
Who is Next in Line?
Evan Koslof, a political reporter with WUSA9 TV channel in Washington DC, suggested Pelosi would be out of office on 3 January 2021 if federal elections were delayed and he said “next in line would be the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, which is currently Senator Chuck Grassley [a Republican, from Iowa].”
The president pro tempore of the United States Senate is the second-highest-ranking official of the Senate.
Senators are elected for four year terms and one-third of the Senate is up for re-election this November.
But Grassley, who was only elected in 2018, would be effectively the “last man standing” and could conceivably take over in January 2021 if no elections had been held by then.
Mr Koslof - in an article based on interviews with constitutional experts - points out only 65 senators would remain in the Senate on 3 January 2021 if the federal elections were delayed and adds: “Since a majority of the remaining senators would be Democrats, they could select a new President Pro Tempore of the Senate.”
Among those who might throw their hat in the ring for the job are veteran Senators Dianne Feinstein, 87, and Ben Cardin, 76, and Bernie Sanders, 78, Elizabeth Warren, 71, and Amy Klobuchar, 60, who all ran for the Democratic nomination.
Republicans Do Not Want Delay
Senator Grassley himself was dismissive of Trump’s tweet: "All I can say is, it doesn't matter what one individual in this country says. We still are a country based on the rule of law, and we want to follow the law."
The date of the election can only be changed by Congress and congressional leaders are opposed to any delay.
Many other Republicans have also dismissed the idea of delaying the elections and have pointed out that the US has managed to keep to the “first Thursday in November every four years” schedule despite earthquakes, storms, a civil war and two world wars.
The Governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu, said his state would be holding elections in November as scheduled and added: “End of story.”