Coronavirus National Emergency: Can it Stop the 2020 Presidential Election?


The coronavirus national emergency was announced on Friday, March 13, by President Trump. “I am officially declaring a national emergency,” Trump said on a live broadcast. “Two very big words.”

Now, many are likely wondering just how much of American life will be paused during the national emergency. It’s an especially relevant question, given that many states have primaries for the 2020 election coming up. Plus, there’s the general election itself, set for November 2020. Of course, that’s several months away — but the coronavirus outbreak is so unprecedented that it’s unclear just how long the national emergency will take place for.

Here’s what you need to know:

No, Trump’s National Emergency Cannot Legally Stop or Delay the 2020 General Election — But Something Else Can

There have been countless questions asked about the vulnerability of the U.S. presidential election to the coronavirus, given all of the efforts being made to establish social distancing across the country.

Voting rights professor Josh Douglas tweeted on March 13, “Since lots of people have asked me: No, Trump cannot use his executive powers, even in a national emergency, to delay the November 2020 election. Only Congress can set the date of the presidential election.”

This begs an obvious question: is there a world in which Congress votes to change the date of the presidential election?

Yes, there is. The Constitution explicitly gives Congress the authority to regulate presidential elections, and one approved aspect of regulation is determining the time of the election. As of March 13, the general election is set for Nov. 3, 2020. But if the coronavirus pandemic continues to threaten global safety by that point, it’s possible that Congress could vote to delay the election until further notice.

For the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, Thurgood Marshall Jr. and Steven Okun posed the fundamental questions around the topic of coronavirus and the general election:

Although we have some experience as a guide, there is no clear playbook yet on how to proceed. But election administrators will need to consider a range of alternatives, many of which require substantial lead time to implement.

…In the current environment, a sudden virus outbreak in the days preceding the election could have a disastrous impact on turnout and, remarkably, the same effect could even be triggered by an unsubstantiated report.

Worse, what if a bad actor used a “fake news” COVID-19 scare to keep people from voting. Imagine if there was a false tweet of a COVID-19 outbreak at a certain polling location. People would stay away, thereby tilting the election toward one party.

Is the United States prepared for that?

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