Can a US president postpone an election?

Coronavirus in the US: can Trump postpone the election?

Super Tuesday, the day that the largest number of US states held their primary at the same time, was March 3rd. That was not even a month ago - but it could also have felt a hundred years ago. What kind of times were those when the dominant topic of conversation was the competition between Biden, Sanders, Warren and Co! Does anyone even remember Michael Bloomberg's candidacy?

Today the coronavirus dominates the news, also in the US. But that does not mean that the primary campaign is on hold. On March 17, the Florida, Illinois, and Arizona primaries took place. Florida primaries - until recently, none of the commentators on Fox News, CNN, and the New York Times would have been talking about any other topic.

But the coverage of quarantine and the growing number of cases almost forgot that the former Vice President Biden won in all three states - in Florida with around 62 percent of the vote, well ahead of Bernie Sanders' almost 23 percent.

Area codes are postponed

In fact, Ohio voters should have voted on their presidential candidate on March 17th. But the state, like Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland and Pennsylvania, has postponed its area code due to concerns about the corona pandemic.

"That was a sensible decision, given the risk the coronavirus poses to public health," wrote Franita Tolson, an expert on suffrage and law professor at the University of Southern California, in an email to DW .

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J. Miles Coleman from the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia also sees the postponement of the votes as positive. "After all, the Declaration of Independence guarantees all Americans 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,'" Coleman told DW. "Life comes first." He welcomed the fact that older voters and those in risk groups did not have to endanger their own because they could stay away from the polling stations.

Who will benefit: Biden or Sanders?

But what do these shifts mean for the two campaigners? On the question of whether Sanders or Biden will benefit from the current situation, the opinions of the experts differ.

No longer topic number one: Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden

"The delay in the primaries is helping Joe Biden," writes Tolson. "The coronavirus is dominating the news, making it difficult for [the last] Bernie Sanders to use the media to convince the public of his nomination."

Coleman is convinced of the opposite. In his opinion, Sanders is benefiting from the extraordinary situation, which is drawing special attention to the US healthcare system. "The current discussion ensures that Sanders remains relevant," said Coleman. "Perhaps more voters are now ready to give his 'radical' ideas such as public health insurance for all Americans a chance."

Presidential election in times of the coronavirus

Whether the corona crisis could also affect US President Donald Trump's chances of reelection cannot yet be foreseen, say Tolson and Coleman.

However, some Americans have expressed concern on social media about the possibility that US President Donald Trump could postpone the presidential election in November, thereby extending his term in office.

Tolson doesn't see the November election in jeopardy. "We have had elections before [in US history] in difficult times - even during the Civil War!" Says Tolson.

Coleman also thinks it is very unlikely that the November election will be postponed. The date is set by the Congress. And Trump's term of office ends in any case on January 20, 2021. If no election has been taken by then, the succession plan, which applies to the unforeseen departure of a president, will apply.

Postal voting instead of voting

Since Vice President Mike Pence's term of office would also end by January 20 next year at the latest, the next person in this ranking would be Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic majority leader in the House of Representatives who the US President can't stand to death. That she of all people could become president is probably the last thing Trump wants. So it seems unlikely that the US president will delay the election for tactical reasons.

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But it could be that you will see other pictures than the familiar queues in front of the polling stations. "Holding the vote entirely as a postal vote would be feasible," says Coleman. "But we have to start preparing now."