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A file photo shows a sign pointing people to a polling place in San Antonio, Texas during early voting in the primary election, Feb. 14, 2022. (AP) A file photo shows a sign pointing people to a polling place in San Antonio, Texas during early voting in the primary election, Feb. 14, 2022. (AP)

A file photo shows a sign pointing people to a polling place in San Antonio, Texas during early voting in the primary election, Feb. 14, 2022. (AP)

Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu
By Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu May 7, 2024

If Your Time is short

  • Only Congress can change a presidential election’s date.

  • Currently, the date set by Congress for states to hold their presidential elections is the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

  • This year’s federal elections will be held Tuesday, Nov. 5.

Neither two world wars nor a global pandemic have kept the United States presidential election from happening on schedule.

However, as this year’s campaign cycle heats up, talk about a postponement or cancellation is gaining momentum online.

Keith Rose, a plastic surgeon and conservative commentator, cited this possibility during a recent appearance in an episode of "The Charlie Kirk Show," an eponymously-named conservative radio talk show.

"You will see an outburst in a lot of cities of some type of coordinated violent activity or it may be alleged to be tied to a nation state," Rose said in a clip posted April 19 on Facebook. "But I think what you are going to see is mass civil unrest in some larger cities and then that would be the fig leaf that the president has the authority to step in and postpone or cancel the elections if he deems it a national security threat."

Rose cited unnamed sources during the radio show and did not answer PolitiFact’s request for an interview. 

Where is this being discussed?

Similar claims about President Joe Biden perhaps canceling the election using the War Powers Act surfaced in a public Facebook group. In January, a viral Instagram video claimed there were discussions about canceling the election as has happened in war-torn Ukraine.

Has this ever happened?

Historically, there is no precedent for postponing or canceling a presidential election.

"No president in U.S. history has ever canceled or postponed an election," Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a Stetson University election law professor, wrote to PolitiFact in an email. "Even during the Civil War elections were held." 

The Civil War was fought between 1861 and 1865, and Abraham Lincoln was reelected president in 1864 in a vote held in 25 states. The 11 Confederate states, which had seceded from the U.S., considered Jefferson Davis, who had been elected in 1861 as president of the Confederacy’s provisional government. Those states did not participate in that election.

Political experts underscored to PolitiFact that U.S. presidents lack the power to determine presidential election dates.

"This is a nonsense theory … there's just absolutely nothing behind it," said Adav Noti, executive director of Campaign Legal Center. "The date is set by Congress and elections are administered by the states. The president has no role in setting Election Day or moving it."

Torres-Spelliscy further added that "in many states administering elections is carried out on a local or county level."

Congress’ role in setting dates for presidential election, inauguration 

Presidential election and inauguration dates are set by Congress, and only the legislative branch can change that.

"Since 1845, Congress has required states to appoint presidential electors on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, which represents the date by which voters in every state must cast their ballot for President," a March 2020 report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, said amidst concerns about the elections resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. 

 By ratifying the 20th Amendment in 1933, Congress also set a definitive date when presidential terms would begin and end: noon on the 20th day of January. Before that amendment, presidential terms ended March 4.

"The president has no legal power to change the date of the election unilaterally," Richard H. Pildes, a professor of constitutional law at New York University, told PolitiFact in 2020 when former President Trump suggested postponing that year’s presidential election.

If Congress wanted to change Election Day this year, it would require a bill passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democratic-controlled Senate and signed into law by President Biden.

The 2020 Congressional Research Service report found no mechanism for a U.S. president to cancel a presidential election using emergency powers.

"Congress has enacted more than 100 statutes identifying special powers that the President may exercise during a national emergency," the report said, "but none include the power to postpone or cancel any state’s chosen method of appointing presidential electors."

Election law experts said the system is intentionally designed this way.

"The functioning of democracy relies on elections being held as scheduled without the opportunity for candidates or office holders to interfere with that process," Noti said. "If a president could delay or postpone an election, then a president who wanted to stay in office (unduly), would have a mechanism for doing that and the constitution is designed quite intentionally to ensure that no president can stay in office without being re-elected."

We also asked the White House for comment and received no reply. President Joe Biden has made no public statements  about a plan to move the election’s date.

Absent of a radical change from Congress, this year’s elections will be held  Nov. 5.

RELATED: Trump floats moving Nov. 3 election. But Congress holds that power

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Our Sources

University of California, Santa Barbara, The American Presidency Project, accessed April 29, 2024

Congress, Twentieth Amendment  Presidential Term and Succession, accessed April 29, 2024

Congressional Research Service, Postponing Federal Elections and the COVID19 Pandemic: Legal Considerations, March 20, 2020

U.S. House of Representatives, Counting electoral votes in Congress, accessed April 29, 2024

U.S. National Park Service, The Elections of 1860 and 1864, accessed April 29, 2024

National Constitution Center, Does the Constitution allow for a delayed presidential election?, April 10, 2020

Library of Congress, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Inauguration, accessed April 30, 2024

White House Historical Association, The Origins of the March 4 Inauguration, April 22, 2021

Congressional Research Service, Election Day: Frequently Asked Questions, Oct. 21, 2022

Library of Congress, Jefferson Davis Elected, accessed April 30, 2024

USA Today, No, it's not possible to cancel the American presidential election, Jan. 23, 2024 

Facebook post (archived link)

Email exchange with Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, April 29, 2024

Phone interview with Adav Noti, May 1, 2024

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U.S. presidents can’t cancel or postpone federal elections