Context: The U.S. President Donald recently triggered a new controversy by suggesting that the November Presidential elections be delayed due to the COVID19 pandemic.
Constitutional provisions in US regarding timing of Presidential election
- According to the U.S. Constitution, it is Congress, not the President, that decides the timing of the elections.
- A federal law approved on January 25, 1845, has unambiguously set the election timing.
- The election timing can be changed only by passing a new law, which needs the approval of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and will be subject to legal challenges.
- Even if both houses agree to change the date Mr. Trump can’t continue in the White House beyond his stipulated term which is set to expire at noon on January 20, 2021.
- Line of succession
- Ordinarily, if the presidency is vacant, the Vice President assumes charge.
- According to Article 1 of the Constitution, the Vice President is the president of the Senate, and the Senate should choose a president pro tem to act in the absence of the VicePresident
- However, here, the terms of both current President and Vice President will expire on January 20.
Provisions related to postponing of elections in India
- The Rajya Sabha/Legislative Council elections can be postponed indefinitely by the Election Commission.
- However, EC can postpone elections to the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies for a period of only six months.
- This period is the constitutionally defined limit between two sessions of the House/Assembly.
- Further extension
- For a further period of extension, the ball is in the executive’s court, which will be faced with two possibilities.
- The first is a proviso to Article 172(1) whereby during a state of Emergency, an election can be postponed for one year in addition to a period of six months after Emergency is lifted.
- The rider, however, is that a state of emergency can be declared only if there is a threat to the security and sovereignty of the nation, not if there is an epidemic or a pandemic.
- The second option is to declare the President’s rule in the State, enabled by Article 356(1) of the Constitution. But its limits have been repeatedly defined by the Supreme Court.