Americans are lucky. Unlike other nations, American electoral institutions work. Since the founding of the United States more than two hundred years ago, the wheels of American government have turned like clockwork. Every two years, Americans choose congresspeople to speak about their local needs. Americans also get to choose two senators every six years to advocate for the needs of state residents. In addition, Americans have the opportunity to choose a president every four years. With very rare exceptions, this system has largely functioned as it was designed to do when first set in motion.
While Americans have been electing people to represent their interests in Washington for over two centuries, the current president sees issues with the upcoming elections. President Trump has floated the idea of postponing this year’s elections. He has argued that Americans should consider delaying the presidential election. His argument is that the election poses problems that Americans the means to overcome right now. He suggests that gathering in large numbers may create safety hazards that can lead to the spread of COVID-19. The president is also of the belief that mail-in ballots may not be secure or accurate.
A Bad Idea
On the surface, such proposals may seem sound and logical. Americans are facing a massive wave of COVID-19 cases and hundreds of thousands of deaths. Government officials are correct in doing all they can to ensure a healthy electorate. Postponing the election might be a good idea until we have an effective vaccine. Yet a closer examination of this propose reveals it to be one fraught with serious and dangerous problems. For the president to even suggest such an idea is for him to propose tinkering with institutions that have served Americans well for centuries.
The history of the American government extends back over two hundred years. During this time, Americans have experienced everything from multiple world wars to economic depressions and a civil war. Yet despite such disruptions, Americans have always stood up and gone to the voting booth. Every four years, the American public has the opportunity to weigh in on the performance of the president. When Trump proposes to delay the election, he proposes to set aside an institution that has worked well as intended. Even in the face of the Civil War that nearly tore the country apart, president Lincoln resisted the temptation, stood for reelection, asked for a referendum on his actions and won.
Trump’s suggestion also has another problem. He lacks the power to make these changes. The process of putting a president in power is clearly spelled out in the Constitution. State officials have the inherent right to delay primary elections. However, the Constitution provides Congress with the ability to set the presidential election date. Allowing Trump to override this process would require a constitutional amendment. The Constitution also explicitly states that the president’s term expires on January 20th. President Trump cannot simply choose to disobey the laws of the land and remain in office past that time.
When Trump makes this argument, it’s clear how little he understands the country he wishes to govern. One of the most important promises the American government make is the peaceful transfer of power. Unlike other nations where military coups are common or changes in government are random and frequent, the United States is an island of stability. Again and again, Trump has repeatedly demonstrated he simply doesn’t understand this. While the Russians aren’t sure when Putin will leave office, Americans know they have the right to if determine Trump’s hold on powers should continue.
Delaying the election would reduce the United States to yet another place where the people are given little say in what happens to them. This is not the United States the world respects and looks for world leadership. The election must take place. The president has failed the American public miserably. Unemployment rates are up. COVID-19 has left a trail of death and destruction because the president put the stock market ahead of the public’s needs. The least very least the president can do is allow the American public their right to decide if he should continue to lead our nation.