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Who can change the date of the presidential election? Congress

WASHINGTON -- After President Donald Trump on Thursday floated the prospect of delaying the Nov. 3 presidential election, lawmakers and legal scholars were quick to note that the president has no Constitutional authority to make such a change.

In a morning tweet taking aim at mail-in voting, Trump wrote: “Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

The tweet was the latest in a series the president has posted recently raising reservations about voting by mail as a growing number of states move to increase access to absentee voting in response to the coronavirus. The tweets come as Trump faces declining poll numbers heading into the general election.

His critics dismissed the Thursday missive as a distraction from economic figures released  moments before his tweet indicating the U.S. economy has contracted 32 percent over the last four months as the nation grapples with containing the spread of COVID-19.

Constitutional scholars were quick to point out Thursday that the Constitution only grants Congress the authority to choose the timing of the general election, and it would take an act of Congress to change the date, which was set in 1845 as the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

“Never in American history — not even during the Civil War and World War II -- has there been a successful move to ‘Delay the Election’ for President,” said presidential historian Michael Beschloss on Twitter.

What does the Constitution say about the timing of elections?

Article II of the Constitution authorizes Congress to determine the date of the general election for federal office, only mandating that the “Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”

The Constitution also sets a definitive deadline for the end of a president and vice president’s term, saying the term “shall end at noon on the 20th day of January.”

"Delay of the November election would violate both federal law and the Constitution," said Trevor Potter, president of  the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center, and a former Republican chairman of the Federal Election Commission.

Potter added that "suggesting the possibility of moving the General Election is an extraordinary statement from a sitting President and is sure to create confusion amongst voters about presidential powers in relation to the election. The country has voted in general elections in the middle of a Civil War, two World Wars and the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, not to mention the Great Depression."

Why were states allowed to change their primary election dates in response to the coronavirus?

While several states -- including New York -- delayed their primary elections this year as COVID-19 spread throughout the country, they did so because states have autonomy over the primary process in their states, according to the non-partisan National Constitution Center.

States have the power to set rules for how elections will play out in their state -- such as setting voting hours or establishing absentee voting requirements -- as long as those rules abide by the federal Voting Rights Act, according to the Department of Justice website.

Is there support in Congress for moving the election?

No. The president’s suggestion was widely rejected by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Republican congressional leaders typically aligned with Trump dismissed the president’s tweet. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told a Kentucky radio station on Thursday that the date of the election was set in stone, and House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters “we should go forward” with the election.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) replied to Trump’s tweet by simply quoting  Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, which outlines Congress’ authority to set a date.

What has Trump previously said on the issue?

The president in April said he “never even thought of changing the date of the election. Why would I do that? November 3rd. It's a good number. No, I look forward to that election."

Trump’s response to reporters came days after his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden told donors in an online fundraiser:  "Mark my words, I think [Trump] is going to try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can't be held." 

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