President Trump’s suggestion Thursday that the November election should be delayed because of “fraudulent” expanded mail-in voting brought out the sharpest election-year attack yet from his predecessor, Barack Obama, who accused Mr. Trump of erasing voting rights and treating “peaceful demonstrators” like segregationist George Wallace.
The president, who has consistently raised concerns that universal mail-in ballots will result in illegal voting, said in a Twitter post that the November election “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???” Mr. Trump tweeted.
His suggestion sparked broad opposition from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. They pointed out that a president lacks authority to postpone the election.
The president said later Thursday that he doesn’t want to delay the election, but feels it’s crucial to draw more attention to the likelihood of fraud using universal mail-in ballots. He said litigation over those ballots could delay election results for weeks or months.
“I don’t want to delay. I want to have the election,” Mr. Trump said. “But I also don’t want to have to wait for three months and then find out that the ballots are all missing, and the election doesn’t mean anything. I don’t want to see a crooked election.”
Mr. Obama used his platform while giving a eulogy for Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights figure, to launch some of his most biting criticism to date of Mr. Trump, without mentioning the president by name.
“We may no longer have to guess the number of jellybeans in the jar in order to cast a ballot, but even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting, by closing polling locations and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws, and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, ” Mr. Obama said as funeral mourners stood and applauded.
He criticized the administration for “undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to the election that’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don’t get sick.”
Mr. Obama said Mr. Lewis “devoted his time on this earth fighting the very attacks on democracy … that we’re seeing circulate right now.”
Mr. Trump has been attacking former Vice President Joseph R. Biden for giving a pass to vandals and anarchists engaged in destruction in cities, and for siding with leftists’ calls to defund police departments. Mr. Obama compared the administration’s use of federal law enforcement agents to quell the violence to the policies of Wallace, who as Alabama governor deployed violent police tactics against civil rights demonstrators in the 1960s.
“George Wallace may be gone, but we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators,” Mr. Obama said to more applause and shouts of approval.
It was the most public foray into the election yet for Mr. Obama, who has been criticizing Mr. Trump at private Biden fundraisers for “assaulting women” and warning of his efforts to push “nativist, racist, sexist” fears and resentments, according to a report this week in The New York Times.
The president’s proposition about delaying the election was merely a suggestion, a senior administration official said.
The official said Mr. Trump “is simply raising a question, whereas Democrats are proposing an entirely new system (of massive mail-in voting) that will result in enormous delays in the election results.”
The president tweeted later that he got news media “to finally start talking about the RISKS to our Democracy from dangerous Universal Mail-In-Voting (not Absentee Voting, which I totally support!)”
“Must know Election results on the night of the Election, not days, months, or even years later!” he said.
Mr. Trump’s musings about delaying elections may stem from what he has read about the states.
Governors and elections officials in at least 19 states cited the COVID-19 pandemic for ordering delays or postponements of primaries, runoffs or special elections this spring and summer. Those elections are all governed by state laws.
Five states have rules that automatically mail ballots to every registered voter in every election. Most other states allow vote by mail without stating a reason, though voters must request the ballot.
During the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, a number of those states relaxed election rules. The California Legislature approved a bill requiring each county to send a ballot to every eligible voter. Delaware expanded its mail-in options. Alaska authorized all-mail elections for this year. Missouri relaxed its rules to allow anyone to vote by mail and to expand the absentee options for voters at high risk for severe effects from COVID-19.
But there is resistance.
In Texas, voting rights groups argued that fear of contracting COVID-19 should count as a disability under the law, entitling anyone to vote by mail. The state Supreme Court and a federal appeals court have rejected that argument.
Courts have been sympathetic to challenges in a number of states to rules requiring mail-in ballots to have the signature of a witness. That is usually considered a check on fraud, but voting rights activists say getting signatures could violate social distancing rules.
There was virtually no support in Congress for delaying the election.
During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo whether the president could delay a presidential election. Mr. Pompeo deferred to the Justice Department.
“In the end, the Department of Justice and others will make that legal determination,” Mr. Pompeo said.
Mr. Kaine responded, “A president cannot delay an election. The date of the election is established by Congress. It was established in 1845. I don’t think it’s that hard a question or one that should lead to any equivocation by somebody who’s fourth in line of succession to be president of the United States.”
Mr. Trump doesn’t have the support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. Mr. McConnell told a reporter for WNKY that the November election date is set in stone and cited past elections during crises.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, noted that the nation has never delayed a presidential election.
“I understand the president’s concern about mail-in voting, which is different than absentee voting, but never in the history of the federal elections have we ever not held an election, and we should go forward with our election,” Mr. McCarthy said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said mail-in voting is “safe and secure.”
“My home state of California and others have long histories of mail-in voting, and widespread fraud has never been a problem,” she said. “Rather than sending inflammatory tweets in an attempt to deflect attention from news reports that 150,000 Americans have now died from the coronavirus and the economy has suffered its worst-ever quarterly losses, the president should instead get behind efforts to expand remote voting.”
The U.S. has never changed or delayed a presidential election, even during the Civil War in 1864.
Federal law known as 2 U.S. Code Section 7 states that federal Election Day is the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
Asked at a House hearing this week whether the president has authority to take executive action to override that law, Attorney General William Barr replied, “I’ve never been asked the question before. I’ve never looked into it.”
Senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner told Time magazine in May that he wasn’t certain whether the election would be held as scheduled in November.
“I’m not sure I can commit one way or the other, but right now that’s the plan,” he said.
Mr. Kushner later issued a clarification saying he was not aware of or involved in any discussions about postponing the election.
The president said earlier this month that he believes expanded mail-in voting in many states “is going to rig the election” and he might not accept the results.
“I have to see,” Mr. Trump told “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.”
He said Hillary Clinton “never accepted her loss [in 2016] and she looks like a fool.”
Mr. Barr told House Democrats that he is not aware of a remedy for the president to contest election results if he is the clear loser in vote totals.
Mr. Trump trails former Vice President Joseph R. Biden by double digits in most national polls and is trailing the Democrat in several key battleground states. Trump campaign officials say public polls routinely undercount Republican voters and are therefore unreliable predictors.
⦁ Gabriella Muñoz, Lauren Meier and Alex Swoyer contributed to this report.
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