The very thought of it could give you nightmares. What if Trump simply cancelled the election on November 3 and refused to leave office?
It’s a concern that has been circulating on social media for a while now, and re-ignited this weekend when, due to concerns about social distancing and the coronavirus, the state of Louisiana decided to postpone their primary by over 2 months:
Within minutes, the concerns that Trump would use the current crisis, or perhaps even his executive powers to declare a state of emergency, to cancel the November election resurfaced. And moments after that, the election and Constitutional experts replied with this reassurance:
No, the president can’t cancel the election.
Why Can’t Trump Cancel the Election?
The first thing to remember is that there is a big difference between a primary and a federal election. The states themselves get to declare when they will hold their primaries, even for federally elected offices, but they have NO ability to change a federal election date.
The president also can’t change a federal election date either as he has no executive power to do so. Declaring a national emergency does not give him that power. Even declaring martial law doesn’t give him that authority, because martial law doesn’t suspend the Constitution.
The Constitution stipulates that only Congress can decide the “times, places, and manner” for a federal election. Furthermore, Congress passed a federal law back in 1948 that says, “The electors of President and Vice President shall be appointed, in each State, on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November, in every fourth year succeeding every election of a President and Vice President.”
So, the November 3, 2020 date is set in stone.
Just think — even if Congress WANTED to change the date of the election, the House (run by the Democrats) would have to agree with the Senate (run by the Republicans) to write new legislation. Anyone see Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell seeing eye to eye on that issue? (Let’s pause for a moment to give everyone who helped flip the House back in 2018 a shout out!!)
One more failsafe is that the 20th Amendment states in its very first sentence, “The terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January.”
Now, if through an utterly unimaginable set of circumstances, we found ourselves on January 20th with no President-elect, Trump would still be out of a job and we would once again look to the 20th Amendment to tell us what happens next (which the authors included as they foresaw a scenario in which a President-elect died before assuming office.) The House of Representatives would get to pick the President, and the Senate would get to pick the Vice President.
If you need any further motivation to keep the House in the Democrats’ hands, this would be it.
In conclusion, rest assured that no matter what Trump says, he cannot cancel the election. If you are concerned, as I am, that people on social media will continue to worry aloud about this possibility which could have the effect of discouraging people from voting, (the “it won’t matter anyway” excuse), I hope you will consider sharing this article or information from it to combat that harmful narrative. We have enough things to worry about — let’s not let anyone be needlessly worried about this!