In 1944, with World War II raging and millions of Americans in uniform, a lot of people wanted to postpone the presidential election.
The arguments seemed compelling. Nothing could aid Adolph Hitler or Emperor Hirohito more than political infighting in the United States during a war. Besides, men and women actively engaged in the fight simply had no time to follow campaigns or cast ballots.
One letter writer in the Des Moines Register said succinctly in April of that year, “I believe our war effort is going to be hindered by the coming political campaigns.” The Boston Globe reported on plans in Washington to postpone the election until 1945 under an agreement that would keep Franklin Roosevelt from seeking a fourth term.
But Roosevelt would have none of it, telling The Associated Press that the people supporting this idea had obviously not read the Constitution.
Nothing has changed on that question in the 76 years since. If war couldn’t stop an election, a pandemic, and baseless allegations of fraud, shouldn’t either.
Of course, Roosevelt felt assured he could easily defeat Republican Thomas Dewey in November; which he did, taking all but 12 states. President Donald Trump’s chances are less certain in 2020. He trails presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in many polls.
Trump recently tweeted his concerns about election fraud in a pandemic, adding, “Delay the election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
The answer to that tweet must be a resounding no.
Today’s challenges are nothing compared with World War II. Nor are they comparable to the Civil War which, despite unspeakable carnage, did not keep the election of 1864 from taking place.
The Constitution gives Congress the power to set the date of the election, and that is governed by a law passed in 1845, which puts it on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November. It’s extremely unlikely a politically divided House and Senate would change that law now.
Most troubling are suggestions that November’s election will be fraught with fraud. There is no credible evidence for this claim. While the pandemic may force many states to emphasize mail-in, or absentee balloting over in-person voting at polling stations, numerous studies have shown that voter fraud is extremely rare in the United States.
When George W. Bush was president, the Justice Department launched an investigation into fraud. As Lorraine C. Minnite of Rutgers University-Camden noted in a paper on the subject, this resulted in only 26 convictions out of more than 197 million ballots cast, or a rate of 0.00000132%. President Trump launched his own investigation in 2018, but later abandoned it.
States that have not conducted mail-in balloting in the past may indeed need to work hard to avoid delays or allegations of voter suppression this November. Some states already experienced disturbing delays during recent primary elections. But mail-in voting alone is not more subject to fraud than other forms of voting.
Utah and a handful of other states have conducted elections mostly by mail for years with few problems.
The United States cannot afford to lose public trust in its election process. Democracy, or government by the people, would cease to exist if the people themselves stopped believing elections were fair.
Fortunately, many prominent Republicans agree that November’s election must proceed as scheduled, just as it did during two world wars, a Depression and the Civil War.