A US Electoral Commission chief issued a sharp rebuke against Donald Trump on Wednesday after the president called for mail ballots to be dumped, as he refused to say whether he would leave office in the event of an election defeat to Democrat rival Joe Biden.
Ellen Weintraub, Federal Commission Commissioner (FEC), warned the president that America does not simply "get rid" of ballots. “In case anyone is unclear on the concept, in the United States of America, we do not ‘get rid of’ ballots. We count them,” she said in a statement on Twitter.
“Counting the ballots – *all* the ballots – is the way we determine who leads our country after our elections. The only way,” she added. Ms Weintraub, a former FEC chair, has previously warned that Americans may have to wait beyond election night to find out who their next president is, as millions vote by post amid the coronavirus pandemic.
At a White House press briefing earlier on Wednesday, Mr Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he fail to win reelection. "Well, we're going to have to see what happens," the president told reporters.
"You know that I've been complaining very strongly about the ballots and the ballots are a disaster," he added. "(G)et rid of the ballots and you'll have a very ... there won't be a transfer, frankly ... the ballots are out of control."
In case anyone is unclear on the concept, in the United States of America, we do not “get rid of” ballots. We count them. Counting the ballots – *all* the ballots – is the way we determine who leads our country after our elections. The only way. https://t.co/F4amcEvx2v
— Ellen L 😷 Weintraub (@EllenLWeintraub) September 23, 2020
Senator Mitt Romney was among those to condemn the president's comments, just days after giving his old foe tacit support over the decision to press ahead with replacing the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the election, a move that threatens to reshape the highest court in the land for a generation.
"Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus," Mr Romney tweeted. "Any suggestion that a president might not respect this Constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable."
National polling shows that Mr Biden still commands a strong lead over the president. But those surveys have tightened slightly in recent weeks, particularly in key battle ground states such as Arizona, Florida and Georgia.
With just over a month to go before the election, the coronavirus pandemic and the economy remain the big issues. Some analysts, however, have suggested that Ginsburg's death could be a pivotal factor in the outcome of the vote.
Ginsburg, a liberal icon, died on Friday aged 87. The president has vowed to replace her with a conservative justice, which would tip the ideological balance of power in the court in favour of conservatives. The ideological make-up of the Supreme Court is crucial to its rulings on some of the most important and fiercely contested issues in US law, such as reproductive rights, voting rights, healthcare and tax laws.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Trump has repeatedly made unsubstantiated claims that mail-in ballots could fall foul to voter fraud. Several studies have shown little evidence of this taking place at previous elections.
Mr Trump has also previously said the only way Mr Biden could win the election is if it's "rigged". He has also suggested the result could be contested all the way to the Supreme Court. Democrats fear Mr Trump could attempt to cling to office using executive powers.