WASHINGTON (CBS News/AP) — President Donald Trump is floating the startling idea of delaying the Nov. 3 presidential election, as he lags in the polls and grapples with deepening economic and public health crises.

The notion drew immediate pushback Thursday from Democrats and Republicans alike in a nation with an uninterrupted history of peaceful transfer of power. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, released a statement saying the President had “once again attacked the integrity of our election system.”

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Trump suggested the delay as he pushed unsubstantiated allegations that increased mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic would result in fraud. But shifting Election Day is virtually impossible and the very idea represented another bracing attempt by Trump to undermine confidence in the American political system. There’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud through mail-in voting.

Citing the expansion of mail-in-voting, Mr. Trump claimed the upcoming election “will be the most inaccurate & fraudulent election in history” and a “great embarrassment to” the United States.

“Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???” Mr. Trump tweeted.

While the president claimed there will be “universal mail-in voting,” just five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — conduct their elections entirely by mail. Twenty-nine states do not require voters to provide an excuse to vote absentee. Many state election officials, however, have been exploring ways to expand vote-by-mail during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure the safety of voters.

“Tactics like undermining electoral processes and trying to push back elections are common, but never in the United States. 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,” said Sen. Feinstein in a statement.  “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.”

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. Regardless, the Constitution makes no provisions for a delay in the end of Trump’s term — noon on Jan. 20, 2021.

In fact, 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.

Trump’s tweet came just minutes after the government reported that the U.S. economy shrank at a dizzying 32.9% annual rate in the April-June quarter, by far the worst quarterly plunge ever, as the coronavirus outbreak shut down businesses, threw tens of millions out of work and sent unemployment surging to 14.7%.

With just over three months until Election Day, Trump trails in the polls nationally and across battleground states, and some surveys even suggest traditionally Republican-leaning states could be in play. While Trump has come back before after trailing consistently in the polls throughout 2016, the survey data has raised the possibility that he could face a landslide loss if he doesn’t turn things around.

Trump has increasingly sought to cast doubt on November’s election and the expected pandemic-induced surge in mail-in and absentee voting. He 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 all forms of voter fraud are rare, including absentee balloting.

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.

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Trump and many members of his administration have previously availed themselves of absentee voting, but Trump has sought to differentiate that from a growing push by states to mail all registered voters either ballots or absentee request forms.

Speaking at Rep. John Lewis’s funeral in Atlanta, former President Barack Obama implicitly addressed his successor’s policies on voting.

“There are those in power 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, even undermining the postal service in the run up to an election that’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don’t get sick,” Obama said.

Voters and public health officials have expressed concerns about the potential dangers for spreading the virus during in-person voting, and states have reported difficulty filling poll worker positions given the pandemic.

Democrats have pushed to include billions of dollars in the next coronavirus relief bill to fund election security and accessibility improvements for this year’s vote, but Trump and Republicans have so far resisted those efforts.

Trump’s stated concern for poll safety defies his otherwise aggressive push to “reopen” the nation from partial shutdowns meant to slow the spread of the virus, even as rising confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths have pushed the U.S. to the top of the list for the world outbreak.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said the election will take place as planned, “be legitimate and…people should have confidence in it.”

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi replied to Trump’s tweet by tweeting a quote from the Constitution assigning Congress the power to set the timing of elections.

Hogan Gidley, the Trump campaign’s national press secretary, pointed to the delays in counting votes in New York’s primary. “The President is just raising a question about the chaos Democrats have created with their insistence on all mail-in voting. They are using coronavirus as their means to try to institute universal mail-in voting, which means sending every registered voter a ballot whether they asked for one or not. ”

Trump has said the upcoming vote will be “the most corrupt election” in U.S. history and has refused to commit to accept the results, recalling a similar threat he made weeks before the 2016 election.

In April, Trump had ruled out the prospect of trying to change the election after Democratic rival Joe Biden predicted Trump would do so. “I’m not thinking about it at all,” Trump said. “Not at all.”

And in March, Trump opposed moves by several states to delay their presidential primaries because of the coronavirus.

 

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