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Postponing the Presidential Election: A modest proposal

Iím sure that everyone has just been DYING to see me opine on the notion of postponing the Presidential elections thatís been floating around, and Iíd hate to disappoint my legions of fans (yeah, both of you). Iíve been giving it a great deal of thought, and even some research, over the last few days.

First, I reluctantly have to agree with Dean Esmay here. There is no way, in the incredibly poisonous atmosphere currently surrounding our politics, that this upcoming election could be postponed without causing the whackos on both ends to go absolutely stark raving bonkers (as opposed to their normal raving bonkers state). Itís gonna be November 2, come hell, high water, dirty bombs, plane crashes, plague, famine, pestilence, or death.

But there very well could be circumstances in the future that would demand elections be postponed or rescheduled, and it would be grossly negligent if we didnít address that before we had to.

But while doing my research, I discovered that I had made an assumption that many others did Ė that it would require amending the Constitution, an idea so radical and cumbersome it had only been done 17 times since the Constitution and Bill of Rights were adopted over 220 years ago. After all the ďfirst Tuesday after the first Monday in NovemberĒ is graven in stone, isnít it?

No, it isnít.

I went nuts trying to find that phrase in the Constitution and itís amendments, and it isnít there. The only time-specific references to the Presidency is in the 20th Amendment, which specifies that ďThe terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.Ē

In fact, the only direction the Constitution itself gives is in Article II, Section 1, Paragraph 4, which reads in full:

The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.

The actual setting of Election Day and the day the Electoral College votes is set by the U.S. Code. Election day is ďThe electors of President and Vice President shall be appointed, in each State, on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November, in every fourth year succeeding every election of a President and Vice President,Ē and the Collegeís voting will be ďthe first Monday after the second Wednesday in December next following their appointment at such place in each State as the legislature of such State shall direct.Ē

What Congress passes, Congress may un-pass (excepting a Presidential veto which may be overridden, etc. etc). As long as Congress doesnít mess with the actual beginning of the Presidential term of office, it can set the election day and Electoral College day whenever it likes.

(Yes, I know there are some hard deadlines that involve the House having convened to certify the election, but thatís irrelevant to my point here.)

With that in mind, Iíd like to offer my own proposal for adjusting this process, keeping in mind the advances in communication and transportation since these dates were set, back in 1845:

The changing of the Election Day (and consequently, the Electoral College day) will be at the discretion of a five-member panel, consisting of the Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader of the Senate, the Minority Leaders of both houses, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. If four of the five all vote to reschedule the election, it will be done.

The only restrictions shall be that it shall be no earlier than October 1 and no later than December 15.

The Electoral College shall cast itís votes exactly one week after the General Election.

I think this is feasible. Say what you want about the 2000 election, it wasnít settled until the Supreme Court ruled on December 12, and the nation generally as a whole accepted the results. The Electoral College convened and voted for Bush on the 13th, the election was certified by the House on January 6, and he was inaugurated on January 20th Ė despite the incredible acrimony surrounding the whole Florida kerfuffle,

(Note: this is not intended and will not become a rehashing of the 2000 election. Itís the past. Itís over and done with. This is about the future, and those events are being cited solely to demonstrate the overall sturdiness of our institutions and the American peopleís willingness to settle matters without violence and revolution, unlike some other countries I could name.)

I briefly toyed with making this a seven-person panel, including the two leading nominees for President and changing the vote to 5 of 7. Iím still undecided about that. The idea, however, is to involve the other branches of government and to prevent one party from simply rescheduling the election for their sole benefit Ė it would take at least one person from the opposing party to cross the line and vote in favor of rescheduling for it to occur, and by keeping it from being unanimous cuts down on one person proving an intractable obstacle.

Anyway, thatís my pipe dream. As always, feel free to tell me what a maroon I am.



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Comments (5)

While postponing and electi... (Below threshold)
Rodney Dill:

While postponing and election would prolong a president's term. To do so would bring up a lot of questions that could make that president almost unelectable when an election finally was held. It would likely not be in Bush's best political interests to do this, however, Bush does seem to do what he thinks is the right thing to do, even if it hurts him politically.

I guess I didn't spell it o... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

I guess I didn't spell it out fully, Rodney. There are three distinct elements involved here: 1) the general election, B) the electoral college vote, and III) the assumption of office. The last is fixed in time by the Constitution; the other two are governed by law. As long as assumption of office happens on January 20, as Constitutionally mandated, all we have to do to move the other two around is amend the laws. Postponing the election will NOT affect the length of Bush's term -- only amending the Constitution would affect that.


Thanks JT. My wife and I w... (Below threshold)

Thanks JT. My wife and I were discussing this the other day and I've been too lazy to look it up myself.

I always enjoy it when folks say, "Shouldn't the President be doing..." and we find out it's actually Congress' job. Loved it when it happened to Clinton. Love it here just as well. It's even funnier when a Congressman or Senator is the one screaming that the President hasn't done enough...when it's their job.

I wasn't so much focused on... (Below threshold)
Rodney Dill:

I wasn't so much focused on the legalities, but what the political implications would be given level of polarization.

I can't believe anyone woul... (Below threshold)

I can't believe anyone would want to postpone or make election day earlier. Do the Republicans think that changing the date is really going to throw the terrorists off? I mean, if the date were changed surely it would be the biggest story in the news for a quite a while and the new date would be heavily publicized. Terrorists watch the news. It's as simple as that. Changing the date might also make the terrorists think that we're divided or scared, exactly what Bush says he doesn't want. To me, changing the date of the election would be nothing more than a scam to take attention away from the challenger, John Kerry. What a farce. Is President Bush really that devoid of substance that he would have to resort to something THAT drastic to give him an advantage in the election? Give me a break.






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