On Sunday, Venezuela held what can only be described as a mock election to choose constituents for an assembly to revise the country’s constitution, though no one other than the president, Nicholas Maduro, wants said constitution revised. Predictably, the regime has touted massive turnout, despite a widespread boycott from both the right and left, while the opposition claims that turnout was only 12 percent.
The free world regularly derides the faux-democracies of socialist regimes like Maduro, in which votes are manipulated and elections are canceled due to “emergencies.” Who knew that the party of constitutionally-limited government contained so many people who would willingly give up the constitutionally-mandated check of regular elections?
The Washington Post just released the results of a poll conducted in mid-June of over 1,300 Americans balanced to match the population. The shocking result is that 52 percent of Republicans would support postponing the 2020 election if Trump proposed it in order to be sure that only eligible citizens could vote, and 56 percent said they would do so if both Trump and Republicans in Congress did.
In other words, more than half of Republicans would ignore the constitutional requirement to hold presidential elections every four years if the president said we should. You can object that the question is of the strange, “gotcha” variety, but that doesn’t excuse the responses self-described Republicans gave.
It is bad enough that these responses correlate with and are at least related to, if not caused by, false beliefs about the number of non-citizens who vote in U.S. elections — almost three-quarters of Republicans believe that “millions” of illegal immigrants participated in the 2016 elections.
(The single study that made the rounds earlier this year extrapolating that millions of non-citizens voted in 2014 is obviously faulty to anyone with common sense and has generated multiple rebuttals, such as this one and this one, but it shouldn’t have even been given the dignity of a response)
You can consider voter fraud a problem without swallowing these nutty, debunked ideas. You can also acknowledge that Donald Trump won the presidential election by winning the Electoral College without believing he won the popular vote — almost half of Republicans falsely do believe that.
What is worse than believing falsehoods that make you want to postpone elections is believing that there are cases in which the president and the president’s party in Congress can postpone elections. Sections I and II of the Constitution lay out the provisions for electing representatives, senators and the president, stipulating elections every two years for representatives and every six years for senators, and a four-year term for the president. There is no mention of suspending or delaying elections. Indeed, even in cases of extreme and tenuous circumstances, elections in the United States have gone on and power was transferred.
- King George III said regarding George Washington’s decision to step down from the presidency that he was “the greatest character of the age.” Washington could have been re-elected for life on the excuse that his country needed him, but chose to set a precedent of the peaceful exchange of power, even in the delicate first decade since the ratification of the Constitution, at which time he was the single uniting, uncontroversial figure.
- After a bitter presidential campaign four years later between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson that included accusations of treason, Adams gave up the office to a man of the rival party.
- During the Civil War, when the country was literally divided against itself, the commander-in-chief Abraham Lincoln never suggested a suspension of elections and they went on as usual, despite the danger to continuity in the conducting of the war.
- Franklin Roosevelt’s then-constitutional re-election three straight times during the Great Depression and the Second World War was a vote of confidence and a decision to stay the course — even this prompted a constitutional amendment to prevent it from recurring.
Even taking these cases into account, surely there is some special instance in which an election can be delayed that we can examine to find what qualifies as an exception and the process by which to postpone. For example, in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy impacting the East Coast around the time of the 2012 elections, constitutional lawyer John Yoo considered what would be necessary to postpone an election. It is key to remember that the situation entailed the possibility that large numbers of people would be disenfranchised should voting continue as planned in spite of a natural disaster (and that delay proved unnecessary).
Yoo has a much broader view of presidential power than I do, and even he admitted that there is no power for the president to postpone elections. The power to set the date of elections is allocated to Congress. However, the Constitution does not explicitly delegate a power to postpone elections.
Yoo goes on to consider to whom that power might be delegated should it be necessary for some reason. The key provision in U.S. law (passed by Congress using its constitutional power) he finds are 2 U.S.C. Section 8 and 3 U.S.C. Section 2 regarding the election of Congress and the president respectively:
Except as provided in subsection (b) of this section, the time for holding elections in any State, District, or Territory for a Representative or Delegate to fill a vacancy, whether such vacancy is caused by a failure to elect at the time prescribed by law, or by the death, resignation, or incapacity of a person elected, may be prescribed by the laws of the several States and Territories respectively.
Whenever any State has held an election for the purpose of choosing electors, and has failed to make a choice on the day prescribed by law, the electors may be appointed on a subsequent day in such a manner as the legislature of such State may direct.
It is important to recognize the wording of the way in which a need for postpone an election comes about. In both relevant sections of U.S. Code, the problem arises from a “failure to elect” or a “failure to make a choice.” An election with a few fraudulent votes does not fail to elect anyone.
Worst of all is the notion that a president or a legislative body could decide to postpone facing their own re-election. That is a dictatorial power that puts its wielder above the law. It is the antithesis of limited, constitutional government and a free society. We mock it, rightly — or at least used to — in authoritarian regimes. Whatever the justification, Americans traditionally err on the side of skepticism of government circumventing the controls placed on it.
It wasn’t so long ago that some conservatives were afraid that Barack Obama might use some excuse of emergency to stay in office after 2016. It was ridiculous to consider, just as it is unlikely to believe that Trump would actually suggest postponing the 2020 election, since his ego would not allow for a delay in his winning re-election, as he undoubtedly believes he will. The fact that the same people could turn around and brush aside the abuse of power if it came from their own man — I guarantee the two circles in this Venn diagram overlap substantially — proves that the party whose name is a self-identification with republicanism no longer believes in a Madisonian republic of separation of powers, checks and balances and representative democracy, but just believes in getting the guy with the right letter after his name in office.
The GOP is experiencing a severe crisis of faith in constitutional governance and this is merely the most recent of examples. Back in 2013, Bobby Jindal said that the Republican Party needed to stop being the stupid party. It appears no one listened.