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Has a U.S. Election Ever Been Delayed? It Was Held Amid Civil War & Spanish Flu

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Politics are often an uncomfortable subject for people, however the 2020 United States election seems to have amplified that sentiment. It's been a campaign season unlike others between the global health crisis, the civil unrest within the country, and a president at the helm that makes some people uneasy. 

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It's been suggested a few times during the 2020 campaign season to delay the election due to the coronavirus, and now with Donald Trump testing positive for the virus, it's been asked again. This begs the question: Has an election ever been delayed before in the United States? 

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Has an election ever been delayed in the U.S.?

The short answer to the question on if an election has ever been delayed in the United States is no — not even during times of great struggle for the country. According to National Geographic, elections in the U.S. have gone forward on the scheduled date, "even during the Civil War, Spanish Flu, and Great Depression."

The United States has never delayed a presidential election, however it has moved the date for "administrative reasons," which were both within the first 60 years of the founding of the country. Presidential elections have never been delayed due to any national issue or crisis. 

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The question on if an election should be or ever has been delayed has been brought up several times during the 2020 election cycle. On July 30, President Donald Trump tweeted a suggestion that the election slated to take place on Nov. 3, 2020 be delayed, tied to his continued criticism of mail-in voting, which many states have expanded since the health crisis hitting the country. 

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"With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history," he tweeted at the time. Adding, "It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???" 

  

The question on if an election should be delayed has been a topic widely discussed during the 2020 campaign. At first it was tied to the current president raising concerns that the virus would not allow for accurate numbers, claiming that mail-in voting results in fraudulent votes.

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According to the BBC, which spoke with Ellen Weintraub, commissioner of the Federal Election Commission, mail-in voting fraud is not a wide-spread issue or concern. "There's simply no basis for the conspiracy theory that voting by mail causes fraud," she told the publication.  

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In early October 2020, questions of potentially delaying the election were raised again after President Trump tested positive for the novel coronavirus – just 32 days before Election Day. Questions were raised again on if this diagnosis would cause a delay in the election. 

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Does the U.S. president have the right to delay an election?

Even if President Trump wanted to delay the election, it's not his call to make, according to National Geographic. "The Constitution gives that power to Congress, the legislative branch," the publication reports. "The framers then placed further limitations that make postponing an election more trouble than it’s worth." 

According to the National Constitution Center, any changes to the election date would require both houses of Congress to agree to move the elections to an earlier date – it's harder to push the date back. The reason dates back to the 20th Amendment, ratified in 1933, which states specifically that the four-year terms of the president and vice president end at noon on Jan. 20 the following election year. And it still holds even if an election never took place. 

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