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Nancy Pelosi could become the President if elections are postponed. But will it come to that?

In theory, there are mechanisms in the constitution that provides for this, however, it would be as unprecedented as the elections being postponed.

Nancy Pelosi could become the President if elections are postponed. But will it come to that?
Cover Image Source: Getty/Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks at her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill on June 26. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis)

As the 2020 general elections date fast approaches, one particularly worrisome thought has been gaining momentum: What happens if President Trump doesn't accept the election results? Every time he's asked about it, the 74-year-old refuses to give a straight answer. "I have to see. No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either," he said when asked by Fox News' Chris Wallace in a much-talked-about interview last month. Although in reality, the President can't dismiss the results of the election and hold on to power, it isn't stopping Trump from teasing at the possibility of him pulling off some unprecedented move to prolong his stay in the White House.



On July 30, he tweeted about his desire to postpone the 2020 general elections because mail-in ballots would make the election "INACCURATE AND FRAUDULENT." While his claim about mail-in voting is completely unfounded, his tweet did raise some interesting interpretations and debates on constitutional law. One of the most popular ones was a Twitter trend talked about the possibility of Speaker Nancy Pelosi becoming the next president of the country in the event that the general elections are delayed. Although this too would be an unprecedented event in American history, some prominent scholars and academicians in the country have clarified that there are mechanisms in the constitution that provide for the same.



"There is a procedure — it’s a very elaborate procedure — in every state for resolving disputes by the date of the so-called safe harbor on December 8," Laurence Tribe, one America's foremost constitutional scholars, said in a recent interview with MSNBC. "So, really, all of the efforts that Trump is making to both pretend that he can extend the date of the election, which everyone understands he can’t do that. That date is set on November 3 by act of Congress... That is, no matter how much dust he (Trump) throws into the gears, at high noon on Jan. 20, 2021, if there has not been a new president elected, at that point, Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House, becomes president of the United States."



A document of the National Task Force on Election Crisis—a bipartisan group of experts and former government officials formed to ensure a free and fair 2020 elections—clearly lays out this provision. "If the election somehow remains incomplete and there is no president-elect (or vice-president-elect) decided by noon on January 20th, the Electoral Count Act provides that the vacancy shall be filled by an “acting president” (with the Speaker of the House first in line, followed by the president pro tempore of the Senate)," it states. That is, despite Trump's hints that postponing the elections could somehow extend his presidency beyond the duration of four years, the laws clearly say it will not. The document adds, "An incomplete election does not mean that the previous president stays in office."



"The general election is governed by a combination of the US Constitution, federal law, and state and local laws. None of these gives the president any authority to change the date of the election or to extend the current presidential term past January 20th," it further states.

However, a Snopes article points out that all the 435 members of the House—including Pelosi and 35 senators—are also up for re-election in 2020. "So delaying the election wouldn’t necessarily mean Trump stays in office past the end of his term, and it wouldn’t necessarily mean Pelosi would assume the office of president. But it would also raise the likelihood that the senator who does assume office would be selected by the remaining sitting senators, who would be majority Democrats," it states.



On the other hand, the task force has made it clear that the very thought of the elections being postponed is mere speculation. "Recently, questions have been raised about whether the president can postpone the upcoming general election. The answer is clear. Based on the relevant constitutional, statutory, judicial, and historical authorities, the president has no such authority to postpone or cancel the general election," it clarified in a statement. "Importantly, under our Constitutional system, the president has only the powers set forth in the Constitution or delegated to him by Congress. None of these gives the president any authority to change the date of the election, even in an emergency, or to extend the current presidential term past January 20th. In short, the president has neither express nor inherent power that would allow him to order that an election be canceled or postponed."

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