Area members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation were mostly silent Thursday in response to President Donald Trump’s tweet floating the idea of delaying the Nov. 3 election — a move Trump wouldn’t have authority to make.
Several analysts and political scientists weighed into the national political uproar, however, arguing that the tweet was Trump’s attempt to distract from the latest negative U.S. economic news and to sow doubt about the election results should he be defeated.
Most general elections polls show Democratic challenger Joe Biden leading Trump by between 6 and 10 percentage points, as well as Biden ahead in many swing states, including North Carolina.
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported at 8:30 a.m. Thursday that U.S. real gross domestic product dropped a record 32.9% on an annual basis, as the full socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic began being felt during the second quarter. The previous worse quarter was a 10% decline in 1958.
About 16 minutes later, Trump tweeted “With Universal Mail-in Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safety vote???”
“It’s no coincidence the tweet was posted so quickly after the GDP report was released,” UNC Greensboro political science professor Thom Little said. “We’re numb to the audacity to it. There’s no shock value to it anymore.
“It’s dangerous that the president is challenging the legitimacy of the election, but it’s something he’s been doing even before he was elected,” Little said.
Jason Roberts, associate chairman of the political science department at UNC Chapel Hill, said Trump's distraction strategy with "bombastic tweets is a brilliant political maneuver for him and it seems to work almost every time."
"The more outrageous it is the better for him, because the media seem to unable to resist taking the bait."
However, Roberts said that "if you look back at all the things like this that he has tweeted, he rarely, if ever, follows up on them."
Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation, said Trump “would have been served best by misplacing his phone, thus missing the opportunity to tweet.”
“The president highlights a legitimate concern about potential problems related to elections conducted completely by mail. Rather than stick to that message alone, though, he diverts attention from the real issue by talking about delaying elections.
“A delay will not happen, and it’s a bad idea to suggest delay — especially in such a time of deep partisan divisions.
“I don’t think these comments will sway voters, but they will remind people why they love Trump, hate him or accept him with trepidation," Kokai said.
The president doesn’t have the authority to change or delay a general national election. Having the general election on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November is required by federal law.
Changing the date would require legislation enacted by Congress and signed by the president, which would not be approved by the Democratic-controlled U.S. House, the political science professors agreed.
The 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that each new Congress term begin on Jan. 3, and the new president’s term begin at noon Jan. 20.
Caitlin Carroll, a spokeswoman with U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said “we do not have a statement to share at this time” about Trump’s tweet. The offices of Sen. Thom Tillis and Reps. Virginia Foxx and Patrick McHenry did not respond.
The News & Observer of Raleigh quoted an NBC News interview of Tillis, who said "the (general) election is not going to be delayed in spite of the fact that several states delayed the (primary) election, but we got to make sure that we have the resources and we don’t have the debacle that we’re seeing in, say the state of New York.
“The election is going to be held in November. Absentee ballots in North Carolina are strongly encouraged, as has the president encouraged. The states that decide to do mass mailings, I hope get it right because otherwise they’re going to undermine the integrity of the election.”
Top Republicans in Congress, however, quickly rejected Trump’s suggestion, and The Associated Press reported later in the day that Trump appeared to retreat, arguing that he was just trying to highlight alleged problems with mail-in voting.
Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College in Salisbury, said Trump was “casting aspersions on a legal method of voting that has no research findings regarding the allegations of fraud that he has alleged,” Bitzer said.
“He is (trying to) demonize that method which, historically, has been a source of Republican vote strength in this state.”
Absentee voting steps
The N.C. State Board of Elections responded to Trump’s tweet by saying “election officials have worked for many months to ensure accessible, safe and accurate elections in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic ... and that absentee by-mail voting is safe and secure in North Carolina.”
The board listed 12 criteria that ensure the proper use of absentee by-mail voting.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper tweeted Thursday: "Our country has held free elections during crises throughout our history and this year will be no different. North Carolinians will choose their leaders safely and securely on November 3rd and rally together to defeat this pandemic."
Little said what North Carolina and other states’ boards of elections should be doing now is hiring and training more poll workers to produce voting results, in particularly absentee ballots, as quickly as possible on Election Day.
David Holian, an associate political science professor at UNC Greensboro, said tweeting about delaying the November general election is an odd strategy.
“The problem for him since 2016 has been that his base alone can’t win him re-election,” Holian said.
“His base, plus late deciders plus independents plus good luck in the Electoral College, helped him win in 2016.
“It’s an open question as to whether people are more likely to turn out in an election that they are being told is fixed.
“What’s the point of voting if the president you support keeps telling you that the election is a hoax?”
No clear winner
Both Holian and Little say they’re concerned about how Trump and some of his supporters could react if there is a close, contested election that can be tied up in federal court for weeks similar to the Bush vs. Gore election in 2000.
Such a scenario has North Carolina and other swing states either not having a declared winner on Election Day, or Trump leading on Election Day, but Biden pulling ahead as absentee ballots come in.
Trump tweeted at 5 p.m. Thursday: “Must know Election results on the night of the Election, not days, months, or even years later.”
Holian said Trump is “laying the groundwork to make what are to this point baseless electoral fraud claims, rather than admitting to being rejected by the electorate.”
Bitzer said that unless a victory by Biden “is overwhelming at this point, and there is absolutely no doubt that the Electoral College margin is convincing, I am growing more concerned, beyond what I already was, that a situation of breaking even more norms regarding the peaceful transition of power between administrations and presidents will occur this fall and winter.”
“I truly hope that I am wrong.”