President Trump, who in recent polls has been lagging far behind his presidential rival as he faces a devastating public health crisis and economic collapse, on Thursday railed again against voting by mail and suggested that the election should be delayed until people can “properly” vote.
It’s an unprecedented proposal from an American president and one which he appears to have no authority to implement.
“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???” he tweeted.
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
Trump does not have the constitutional authority to make such a decision. Though the administration of elections is largely left to state and local governments, the date of the general election is spelled out in federal statutes. And Article II of the US Constitution explicitly gives Congress authority to set the date of the election.
There is also no evidence that mail-in voting is vulnerable to fraud. Even prior to the pandemic, five states, including heavily Republican Utah, implemented universal mail in voting. But Trump has called remote voting options the “biggest risk” to his reelection and his campaign and the Republican Party have sued to combat the practice, which was once a significant advantage for the GOP.
Despite a lack of evidence of fraud, Trump has used mail in voting to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election. He refused in an interview just weeks ago with Fox News to commit to accept the results of the upcoming White House election, recalling a similar threat he made weeks before the 2016 vote.
“I have to see. Look ... I have to see,” Trump told moderator Chris Wallace during a wide-ranging interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “No, I’m not going to just say ‘yes.’ I’m not going to say ‘no,’ and I didn’t last time, either.”
Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin, the state’s top elections official, told the Globe he’s less concerned with Trump’s “bogus” attempts to sow doubts about the election than he is about his administration making more subtle moves to “create problems around it.”
”The question is [whether] he’s going to interfere with any of the activities with vote by mail,” the Brighton Democrat said, noting the recent elevation of a major Trump and GOP donor to postmaster general.
Galvin also pointed to Trump’s efforts to reshape the Census — including by pushing to exclude undocumented immigrants from being counted or asking for extra funding to complete it “as quickly” as possible — as evidence of the president’s attempt to reshape long-held democratic processes.
“He’s doing these sort of sneaky little things,” Galvin said. “I am more concerned about that kind of nibbling at the process than I am about an outright effort to prevent the election. . . . It’s clear that he’ll do anything he can to discourage participation, to create a false issue.”
In his tweet, Trump also sought to draw a distinction between "universal" mail-in voting and absentee voting, which he said "is good" and is also a process Trump himself has used.
But the expansion of voting by mail, including a law passed in Massachusetts, simply allows more voters to vote absentee, albeit without needing one of the previous required excuses.
“There’s no difference. It’s the same process,” Galvin said. He added: “The election will be held. The things [Trump] says, there’s no point wasting energy on being outraged.”
Trump’s comments were met with a fierce and swift blowback from both parties Thursday. Attorney General Maura Healey dismissed Trump’s criticisms of voting by mail, writing in a message on Twitter that “our elections will be safe, fair, and on time —because state [attorneys general] will fight for them.”
”We knew this was coming,” Healey said of Trump’s comments. “This man clings to power.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also immediately dismissed the idea in a television interview Thursday.
“Never in the history of the country, through wars, depressions, and the Civil War have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time, and we’ll find a way to do that again this November 3,” McConnell said. “We’ll cope with whatever the situation is and have the election on November 3 as already scheduled.”
Governor Charlie Baker told reporters during a press briefing that he didn’t support delaying the presidential election.
“We’ve had elections in the midst of world wars,” Baker said. “We’ve had elections in the midst of civil war. We’ve had elections many times in this country during terrible, awful circumstances.”
Baker said “there’s no reason why this one can’t happen when it’s supposed to happen.”
Senator Edward J. Markey and Representative Joseph P. Kennedy, running in the Senate Democratic primary, each condemned Trump on Twitter.
“We cannot and will not let this authoritarian criminal delay our election, undermine our democracy, and silence the American people,” Markey said in a tweet.
“Donald Trump is a threat to Democracy,” Kennedy wrote.
Trump’s tweet came just minutes after a report from the federal government found that the US economy had shrunk at a 33 percent annual rate in the second quarter, shattering previous records. A Thursday report from the Department of Labor also showed more than one million newly unemployed Americans are still filing initial claims for unemployment insurance each week as coronavirus-related shutdowns continue to hammer the job market.
Trump has trailed as much as 15 points behind Biden in recent national polls, a trend that accelerated as the US saw a resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic. In one poll, respondents said they trust Biden over Trump to handle the pandemic by more than 20 points.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed.