STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The president seized attention today by floating the idea of delaying November's presidential election. He did this in a tweet. We are obliged to note - not being critical here, just stating a fact - that this is the kind of claim the president often makes, which helps him dominate the news and then nothing ever comes of it. Still, we are obliged also to note it's unusual that a sitting president repeated false claims about the security of mail-in balloting and then wrote, quote, "delay the election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???" - three of them.
NPR's Miles Parks covers election security and will help answer the questions. Hi there, Miles.
MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: Can the election be legally delayed?
PARKS: It can't - I mean, not in the way that the president seems to be suggesting here. There's no sort of executive authority that the president has over federal elections, which a lot of people say is a really good thing about our election infrastructure.
I just got off the phone with a law professor at NYU who called the tweet virtually impossible because, basically, what you would need to actually delay the election would be legislation that would pass Congress, which is almost impossible in our current political structure. You think about the Democratic-controlled House. Would all of those lawmakers be able to get on board with the delay of an election? Then it would have to go through the Senate, pass the filibuster. You'd need to get 60 votes in the Senate and then also have that presidential support. It's just highly unlikely, considering how much, you know, obviously Democrats want this election to happen.
INSKEEP: Yeah, presidential elections have been at the start of November since the 1840s. Now, I want to note the president in this tweet objected to universal mail-in balloting. He then gave an exception. He said absentee balloting is fine, which I guess he has to say because people know now that he himself has voted by mail absentee. But then he said this widespread mail-in balloting that people are talking about is insecure. What makes election officials confident that it is secure?
PARKS: Well, there's all sorts of safeguards that election officials point to that both the president and Attorney General William Barr, you know, kind of conveniently leave out when they question the security of mail voting. You've got barcodes on most mail ballots that make sure that the people sending it in are actually the people who requested them. There's also the fact that there's signature verification, which is really a highly successful way to kind of weed out bad ballots or fake ballots. Not to mention the fact that you would need - to fraudulently get a ballot actually cast and counted, it would have to match the exact paperweight. You'd have to make sure the ballot style was correct for the specific county. The scanners that the election officials have to read ballots will not read any ballot that doesn't match all of those highly specific and very unique aspects of the ballot. It just sounds - when you talk to election administrators about this sort of plot, this idea that counterfeit mail ballots could happen, most of them just almost laugh it off.
INSKEEP: Sure. Not that it's impossible - I mean, people counterfeit money, too - but their argument is that there are security measures against it. We are, though, in this unusual situation where states are looking to lean a lot more on mail-in ballots than they have in the past. What effects might the president's warning have on the election itself, even if it doesn't get delayed as he suggested?
PARKS: Well, yeah, there's a lot of worries that these constant questions about the election's integrity could ruin people's confidence in it. And we know that over the last 20 years, Americans' confidence in federal elections, that their votes are counted accurately has been kind of slowly on the decline.
The other potential issue here is that could President Trump's questions here potentially fire up Democrats? Democrats have been using the concept of voter suppression in their fundraising emails for the past four years. And so there's the question of, do these questions potentially hurt President Trump politically?
INSKEEP: OK, NPR's Miles Parks, thanks so much.
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