Voting in a Time of Pandemic: The November Election Must Go on as Scheduled
by Stephen Dycus & William C. Banks
(Ms. | March 27, 2020) With polls showing Trump trailing former Vice President Joe Biden—his likely Democratic opponent in the November election—it is widely rumored that the president might seek ways to postpone the election in order to remain in office.
Such a move would be blatantly illegal: It would place the government of the United States in the hands of one man, abridge the cherished right of those in the U.S. to choose their leaders, and threaten democracy itself.
The Power to Control Elections Lies with States and Congress
The Constitution entrusts the timing and conduct of federal elections entirely to Congress and the states. According to Article I, states prescribe the times, places and manner of selecting senators and representatives—although Congress may change those rules.
The president has no role to play in their election.
Election of the president is a bit more complicated, but here again the Constitution is clear. Under Article II, the President’s term is limited to four years—although she may be reelected for a second four-year term.
The same article gives Congress the job of determining a time for “chusing the Electors,” who are appointed by each respective state, and whose role in selecting the president is spelled out in detail in the 12th Amendment.
The process is entirely out of the president’s hands.
The 20th Amendment to the Constitution says the President’s term ends on January 20th, and the term of her successor “shall then begin.” It also says that if a president has not been chosen by that date, and no vice president has qualified to serve instead, Congress may either designate someone to act as president or may prescribe a new procedure for selecting one.
Invoking this provision, the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 states that if no one has qualified to serve as President, the Speaker of the House—or others in a specified line of succession—shall serve instead …