The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
President Donald Trump continues to try to sow doubt about voting by mail and the integrity of the November election, and has now suggested that the election be delayed. Other elected officials on both sides of the aisle have immediately dismissed this most recent distraction, and so too should the American people.
“President Trump does not have the authority to delay the November election, and I do not believe that Congress should do so,” said Republican Sen. Susan Collins. States manage elections, and federal law explicitly sets presidential elections on the first Tuesday of November.
Republican leaders in both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate were quick to throw water on Trump’s suggestion to delay election day, and rightfully so. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a reporter in his home state of Kentucky that the date is set in stone.
“No way should we ever not hold an election on the day that we have it,” Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, according to Politico.
Democratic leaders were similarly blunt. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cited Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution that gives Congress the power to choose the date of presidential elections.
Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said Trump’s claim about voting by mail drastically increasing fraud “has absolutely no basis in reality.”
That Trump was able to achieve such universal pushback was a rare feat of bipartisan agreement in Washington this week, where Republicans and Democrats were at odds over a much-needed next round of federal relief. Their inability as of Friday afternoon to reach a deal before a self-imposed and long-established deadline is poised to let critical supports like expanded unemployment benefits lapse.
Amid that weighty debate, Trump’s election comments largely serve as a factually-challenged distraction. Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat, rightly called it “reckless and irresponsible to use that bully pulpit to sow doubt.”
Contrary to the flawed case the president has tried to make against this common form of voting that roughly a quarter of Americans used in 2018, voting by mail is not some new or fraud-riddled process. Trump used it to vote in Florida’s presidential primary this fall.
Now, does expanding it significantly to meet the public health risks of in-person voting during the COVID-19 pandemic present challenges? Of course. An NPR analysis of different state primaries this year found at least 65,000 absentee or mail in ballots that were rejected because they arrived after the deadline. These types of challenges are not fraud, and they demand greater awareness and greater resources, not misinformation.
The solution isn’t to abandon our democratic process, it’s to adapt and invest in the resources necessary to conduct it safely and securely during these unprecedented times. That means bolstering aid to states and municipalities that administer elections, and that are already feeling the budgetary strain of COVID-19, and it means providing more support to the U.S. Post Office.
We didn’t pull those suggestions out of thin air. They aren’t new. The Democratic-controlled House passed a bill in May that would have done these things.
“Expanding vote-by-mail and ensuring safe and early in-person voting options gives all eligible voters the flexibility to cast their ballots safely this fall. At this unprecedented time, voters should not have to choose between their health and executing their constitutional right to vote,” Chris Carson, president of the board of the League of Women Voters, said at the time. “By providing $3.6 billion to state and local election administrators, this bill ensures that our election systems are prepared for changes related to COVID-19.
Again, that was in May. The fact that it took the Republican-controlled Senate so long to develop its own package, and that negotiations are still ongoing, is unacceptable.
There’s enough work for Congress to do without having to cut through Trump’s noise about mail-in voting and delaying election day. The mail-in voting experience in different states makes a case for dedicating more time and resources, not haphazardly throwing around misinformation that undermines trust in the process itself.