The United States is at war with the coronavirus – President Donald Trump has described himself as a wartime President. Yet on Thursday morning, Trump suggested delaying the November election because the pandemic complicates the voting process. For the record, Trump has no authority to do that.
Beyond that, every preceding wartime president, facing the significant challenge of holding an election in the middle of a war (whether against another nation or a virus) has never backed down.
In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln was in the midst of the Civil War, at the helm of a nation at war with itself. He was confronted by the challenging logistics of holding an election with soldiers on the battlefields and dimming hopes for his own reelection, which prompted advisers to suggest a delay.
But it happened as scheduled.
“The election, along with its incidental, and undesirable strife, has done good too,” Lincoln said days after winning it. “It has demonstrated that a people’s government can sustain a national election, in the midst of a great civil war.”
During both World Wars, expanded mail-in voting for troops on front lines around the world ensured successful presidential elections. This spring, Chicago broke a World War II-era record for vote-by-mail applications, with 118,000 voters requesting ballots for Illinois’ March primary.
Precedent was broken by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt when he ran for a third and then a fourth term in 1940 and 1944 … and inspired the term limits laid out in the 22nd Amendment.
Back in 2004, there was concern a terrorist attack could be timed to disrupt the first federal election after 9/11, and it was reported that the election could be delayed if such an attack took place. But then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice sought to shut down speculation, citing the country’s precedent.
“We’ve had elections in this country when we were at war, even when we were in civil war, and we should have the elections on time,” she said at the time. “No one is thinking of postponing the elections.”
Another note: No incumbent president has ever lost reelection during a war.
The Point: By suggesting delaying the November election, Trump would be breaking an American tradition of never shying away from proceeding with a national vote – even during our hardest times.