Valley politicians concerned over voting fraud but don't back election delay
Moving Election Day is not within the executive powers of the president of the United States, said Constitutional experts at Bucknell and Penn State in reaction to President Donald Trump's tweet on Thursday suggesting the Nov. 3 election should be delayed.
"No, a president doesn't have the authority to change the date of the election," said Bucknell professor of political science Scott Meinke.
"In the Constitution, Congress by statute sets the time and manner of the federal election," said Daniel Jacob Mallinson, assistant professor of public policy and administration, Penn State University, Harrisburg.
Trump suggested the delay as he pushed allegations that increased mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic would result in fraud.
“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history," Trump tweeted. "It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
Top Republicans in Congress quickly rebuffed Trump’s suggestion. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the election date is set in stone and House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy said the election “should go forward” as planned.
Valley legislators, like U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, agreed that Election Day will be Nov. 3, but they also expressed concerns about possible mail-in fraud.
"I do not support moving the presidential election," Toomey said. "And the president does not have the unilateral authority to do so. However, the president is right to point out that universally mailing ballots to people who don’t request them is a horrible idea and would likely lead to voter fraud.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, blasted Trump’s suggestion during a fundraiser Thursday evening. He called it another example of Trump's attempts to “stoke division and chaos” because he doesn’t “want to focus on what’s going on.”
“This has got to be a wakeup call,” Biden said. “It’s time to respond with purpose, action and commitment. Because this election isn’t just about voting against Donald Trump. It’s about working to understand people’s struggles. It’s about all our families.”
By statute, the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November is the date for federal elections. Congress has also set the date for the Electoral College to meet as the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, Mallinson said.
"Both are statutes, so Congress can change them," Mallinson said. "But the president cannot."
An election delay would require legislative action, Meinke added, "and Congress has not delayed the presidential general election even in the most serious crises of the modern era," not during the Civil War or world wars.
"Regardless of the election's timing," Meinke said. "The expiration date of the current presidential term is set by the Constitution: January 20."
Mail-in voting fraud risks alleged
Trump appeared to retreat on Twitter on Thursday afternoon, suggesting he was merely trying to highlight problems with mail-in balloting. “Glad I was able to get the very dishonest LameStream Media to finally start talking about the RISKS to our Democracy from dangerous Universal Mail-In-Voting (not Absentee Voting, which I totally support!).”
The president is raising the concern about Democrats’ calls for universal mail-in voting, U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, R-12, Kreamer said. "Which is different than applying for and voting by absentee ballot, as is currently allowed under Pennsylvania law," Keller said. "I agree with President Trump that applying for and voting by absentee ballot is a secure way for Pennsylvanians to cast their vote, while simply mailing ballots to every voter, whether or not they applied for one, would lead to chaos and raise concerns about fraud and security.”
Only five states conduct elections entirely by mail, although more states expect to rely more heavily on mail-in ballots in November because of the virus outbreak. California has announced plans to send ballots to all registered voters for the fall election, but will also have in-person voting options available.
“Must know Election results on the night of the Election, not days, months, or even years later!” Trump tweeted.
Experts assess that delays in counting mail-in ballots could mean results won't be known on Election Day.
Trump has called remote voting options the “biggest risk” to his reelection. His campaign and the Republican Party have sued to combat the practice, which was once a significant advantage for the GOP.
There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud through mail-in voting and the states that use it exclusively say they have necessary safeguards in place to ensure that a hostile foreign actor doesn’t disrupt the vote. Election security experts say that voter fraud is rare in all forms of balloting, including by mail.
Most states are still finalizing their plans for November. A small number of states sent ballots to voters during the primaries, but most states are not expected to do so in November. Instead, voters will have to request an absentee ballot if they want to vote at home.
Voter fraud exists and threatens the integrity of American elections, said U.S. Congressman Dan Meuser, R-9, Dallas.
"I recently introduced the Stop Mail-In Voter Fraud Act to send a message to anyone who tampers with mail-in ballots, that they will face significant penalties, possibly including jail time," he said.
When a large percentage of ballots are submitted via mail, Meuser contends, the opportunity for fraud is undoubtedly higher.
"Submitting a fraudulent vote is, literally, stealing a vote," he said. "Additionally, a fraudulent vote cancels out a legitimate vote cast by a law-abiding citizen, effectively suppressing that legitimate vote. We must do everything in our power to minimize the threat of voter fraud this November."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.