Trump Isn’t the Only President Who May Have Explored Postponing the Vote
Fearing terrorist attacks, the George W. Bush administration also reportedly looked into the option.
On July 30, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted a condemnation of mail-in voting as “INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT”—a claim that has little evidence to support it—and to raise the idea of postponing the November presidential elections “until people can properly, securely and safely vote.” Unfortunately for Trump, U.S. presidents have no authority to tamper with the date of presidential elections—something this country’s last Republican president may have had to learn as well.
In the runup to the 2004 election, which would pit incumbent President George W. Bush against Democratic nominee John Kerry, a debate about delaying the vote briefly bubbled to the top of the national conversation after Newsweek reported that, fearing possible terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security had “asked the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to analyze what legal steps would be needed to permit the postponement of the election were an attack to take place.”
Quickly, Bush’s national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, appeared on CNN to deny that the administration had plans to postpone the vote. “We’ve had elections in this country when we were at war, even when we were in civil war,” she said in her interview with host Wolf Blitzer. “And we should have the elections on time. That’s the view of the president, that’s the view of the administration.” (A longer transcript of those remarks is below.)
Denials aside, commentators around the web, including on Foreign Policy, pointed out that delaying the election would be tantamount to letting the terrorists win, that it would represent bad politics, and, similar to today, that it would undermine democracy. Even more than that, as July and October 2004 reports to Congress from the Congressional Research Service make abundantly clear, it would not even be up to the president to decide when the election would happen. That’s a lesson experts are reminding yet another administration of again today.
Wolf Blitzer: Welcome back. I’m Wolf Blitzer reporting today from New York.
Could the presidential election be postponed in the event of a terrorist attack?
The idea has been discussed within the Bush administration, I’ll ask the national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice. …
Dr. Rice, thanks very much for joining us. Before we get to the intelligence report, homeland security. How serious is this threat of an al Qaeda attack on the homeland before the election, a threat apparently serious enough that the Department of Homeland Security is asking the Justice Department about contingency plans, if necessary, to postpone the presidential election.
Condoleezza Rice: Well, we are concerned about threats prior to the election. There have been such threats, and we are concerned about them. But let me just be very clear. I don’t know where the idea that there might be some postponement of elections comes from. But this administration believes that the elections will go forward on schedule, that there is no reason to think about anything else. 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. That’s the view of the president, that’s the view of the administration.
WB: So even if there’s a major terrorist attack along the lines of 9/11 you don’t envisage the need of postponing the election?
CR: No one is thinking of postponing the elections, Wolf.
WB: Alright. Well, I just asked the question because there is this formal request for these contingency plans which has generated some concern.
CR: Wolf, I don’t know where that comes from. The Department of Homeland Security and our Justice Department are not certain where this has come from and exactly what people are talking about. The important point is we believe elections will go on as planned. We’ve done it before in this country. There is no reason to think anything else.
This transcript is taken from the website of CNN.