Why people must stop worrying that Donald Trump will delay the election

American democracy may or may not have died this week, but you could not tell from the news. Several experts and members of Congress warned that we face “nothing less than a coup” against the people. Others called for organized protests because it is clear the “intent was blood chillingly real” as shown by Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Michael Cohen book accuses Trump of corruption, fraud Trump requests mail-in ballot for Florida congressional primary MORE. One leading academic even called for his impeachment as a fascist out to destroy our political system.

We have not seen such rhetoric since Aaron Burr tried to cut off the entire southwest territory of the United States. The reason today is the question on social media from the president. Returning to the subject of saying that mail ballots will be a disaster, he ended his recent tweet by asking, “Delay the election until people can properly, securely, and safely vote?”

I have said that the tweet was reckless and repugnant. However, cries of an online coup were equally as disconnected from reality. I have written repeatedly about this wild conspiracy theory that Trump will never allow an election to take place this year. It has raged over liberal websites and cable outlets since soon after his inauguration four years ago.

ADVERTISEMENT

The president does not have the authority to delay the election. Even if he could persuade Congress to change the date, with implausible assistance from House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSusan Collins asks postmaster general to address delays of 'critically needed mail' Trump says he'd sign bill funding USPS but won't seek changes to help mail voting On The Money: Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief agreement | Weekly jobless claims fall below 1 million for first time since March | Trump says no Post Office funding means Democrats 'can't have universal mail-in voting' MORE, the Constitution still stipulates that his term ends at noon on January 20. In the interim, not only do citizens have to vote but delegates also have to cast the ballots in the Electoral College, and those votes must be certified and counted by Congress.

So it is not much of a coup when you do not extend your time in office. It does not matter what Trump would like. It is about what the Constitution will allow. A demand to delay the election has the same impact as Trump declaring that he will change his name to “Joe BidenJoe BidenHarris to host virtual Hollywood campaign event co-chaired by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling Trump plans to accept Republican nomination from White House lawn US seizes four vessels loaded with Iranian fuel MORE” if needed to claim victory. It is why this election conspiracy theory is so crazed.

Indeed, I criticized Biden when he picked up the conspiracy theory over the president, triggering another round of panic. He added another idea to this baseless fear when he suggested that Trump opposing funding of the Postal Service was part of plans to steal the election. I also criticized Jared Kushner when he raised uncertainty about the election.

While I portrayed Biden as a nut for raising this conspiracy theory earlier this year, many have now proclaimed him a nostradamus after the tweet by Trump. But Biden was not right and neither is Trump. It is no surprise, and no sign of a plot, that Trump might suggest something outrageous, like a delay of the election, on social media. Such behavior is a fact that occupies many of us on a daily basis in this era. The conspiracy theory is to suggest that Trump could really halt or delay the election.

In fairness to Trump, he has not declared that he can unilaterally delay the election but rather asks if the country should do so. He then later denied actually wanting a delay. Yet the tweet still showed terrible judgment and rekindled this conspiracy theory on the internet. Northwestern University professor Steven Calabresi wrote a column in the New York Times calling for the swift impeachment of the president for his question.

ADVERTISEMENT

I certainly have no delusions of how impeachment is often the magnet for claims of high crimes and misdemeanors. Indeed, over the last few years, various experts and members of Congress have demanded impeachment for everything from tweets to criticism of the football players who do not stand during the national anthem. Yet Calabresi is not an internet lunatic. He is a respected academic who suggested that asking if an election can be delayed because of the pandemic is grounds for removal.

Keep in mind that it is legal for Congress to delay the election, so Trump was asking about something allowed under the Constitution. It would be impossible with Democrats in control of the House, however, it would be entirely legal. So is the president to be considered removable for asking about legal measures? Imagine that as a standard in history.

Trump has objected that a shift to mail voting will cause problems. I have covered elections as a legal analyst for decades. Each contest has had its issues, including the controversy in 2000 resolved by the Supreme Court. While we regularly use absentee ballots, we have not done mail voting on such a massive scale across the country. It will add more challenges. The president is also right that it will likely delay the final count.

There is every reason to be worried. We have a short window before the Electoral College meets on December 14 to certify the results. While the date could also be changed, it would soon collide with January 6, when Congress meets to certify the results. There is the chance for floor fights over the results and the possible failure to certify any states tied up with litigation. It is even possible that such legal challenges could continue to January 20. What is not in doubt, however, is Trump staying in office. He will not be president on that day unless he wins the election.

The only thing scarier for Trump than losing is if no duly elected president is determined. Pelosi could then become the acting president as the next in line. It should be enough incentive for the administration to ensure the Postal Service is fully prepared for Election Day. That is why we should set this conspiracy theory aside. Trump cannot unilaterally delay the election. Our real concern must be what will happen on November 3.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online @JonathanTurley.