On the news that President Donald Trump has been diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus, some are pondering a morbid question – what happens if a candidate withdraws, is incapacitated or dies before the election?
First, no candidate has ever died or been incapacitated before an election. Should that ever happen, it would be dealt with by the political party that nominated the candidate.
Both Republicans and Democrats have contingencies in place in the event something happens to their candidate prior to an election, or between the time of the election and the inauguration.
Here is how that would work:
If it happens prior to the election
First, both parties would nominate someone else to be on the ticket if a candidate is incapacitated or dies before an election.
For the Democrats, the Democratic National Committee chairman – currently, it is Tom Perez – would meet with the Democratic Governors Association and the Democratic leadership in Congress.
The chairman would then report to the DNC’s 447 members. Those members would decide on who would take the nominee’s place.
As for the GOP, the Republican National Committee’s 168 members would cast a vote on the leadership’s recommendation for a replacement. Three members from each state’s delegation cast the same number of votes that their state or territory is entitled to at the party’s nominating convention.
If it happens after an election but before the Electoral College vote
While Americans go to the polls to vote for the president, you are actually choosing a representative to vote for a candidate when the Electoral College convenes.
That happens on Dec. 14 this year.
Should a candidate die before the Electoral College meets in December, the process to name a replacement would be the same as if it happen prior to the election – the party would decide on a replacement.
Where there could be some uncertainty, is that the party would assume their electors would vote for the replacement chosen by the party leaders and members.
In some states, electors cannot, by law, be made to vote for a replacement. In other states, electors are legally bound to vote for the candidate that wins their state’s election.
If it happens after the vote of the Electoral College
Should a candidate die after the votes were cast by the Electoral College and before Congress counted the ballots on Jan. 6, 2021, the new Congress would have to make some decisions.
Congress would have to decide if the votes made by the Electoral College are to be counted. If they are counted, then the vice president-elect would become president.
If the Congress does not count the votes, the 12th Amendment will kick in. The amendment allows for the House of Representatives to elect a president from among the three candidates who received the most votes in the election.
If it happens after Jan. 6
If the person who was elected by the Electoral College and accepted by the Congress should die after Jan. 6, the rules of succession to the presidency would apply and the vice president would be the next president.