What if a Candidate Dies Late in the Election Cycle?

President Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis, and the risk he might have spread the disease to Joe Biden at the debate, raises the interesting procedural question – what happens in our system if a candidate dies late in the election cycle? There’s a short, simple answer.

Death of a Presidential candidate, before about mid-September, would trigger a brief emergency in which the national party would be forced to quickly nominate a successor, probably whoever had been the original VP nominee. After mid-September it would be too late to get a new candidate on the ballot. As of yesterday, October 2, more than two million Americans had already cast their votes. In that case, the deceased candidate would remain on the ballot. If they won, the Electoral College would name them President. In January, the Vice-Presidential candidate would take office as President and select a new Vice President.

Things get weird if both the President and Vice President on the winning ticket die before taking office, but that remains a very remote possibility. In short, the death of a winning candidate has little impact on the final outcome beyond its potential influence on voters.

20 Comments

  1. Sorry Chris.

    You are wrong, dead wrong, about the fascists in Penn not talking about bypassing the vote results to appoint their own electors. You said no one in senior levels in the Penn fascist party has not entertained the thought. From the links below:

    “In comments to The Atlantic made public this week, state Republican Chairman Lawrence Tabas suggested that he had spoken with Trump campaign officials about the possibility of bypassing the results of the popular vote, should there be uncertainty or disputes over the validity of ballots cast. The U.S. Constitution, Tabas said, allows state legislatures to choose presidential electors.

    “I’ve mentioned it to them, and I hope they’re thinking about it too,” Tabas told the magazine, referencing the Trump campaign. “I just don’t think this is the right time for me to be discussing those strategies and approaches, but [direct appointment of electors] is one of the options.”

    His remarks, coupled with those of state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, have placed the state’s political world on alert for a constitutional showdown, with Democrats claiming it would amount to stealing the election.”

    I then researched what Corman said. I found this bit:

    “As the Capital-Star previously reported Thursday, Gellman’s 10,000 word story includes comment from Corman, who told the magazine that he hoped for a final tally on election night.

    “The longer it goes on, the more opinions and the more theories and the more conspiracies [are] created,” Corman told The Atlantic.

    Gellman continued: “If controversy persists [into December], Corman allowed, the Legislature will have no choice but to appoint electors. ‘We don’t want to go down that road, but we understand where the law takes us, and we’ll follow the law.’”

    These are the two links:

    https://www.mcall.com/news/pennsylvania/mc-nws-pa-republicans-bypass-popular-vote-20200926-fojbwizvt5cptfypjstftxwzzm-story.html

    https://www.penncapital-star.com/blog/pa-senate-leader-corman-legislature-will-follow-the-law-on-appointing-electors/

    Now, Corman has since tweeted saying that it is “pure conjecture” on the part of Gellman (I posted a link to that Gellman article over a week ago), and that the fascists will “follow the law”.

    Oh, and this the section that they plan on using. As I said earlier, if the waters are muddied, then the lawyers step in, this gets kicked up to SCOTUS, and we know what happens there.

    https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/interpretation/article-ii/clauses/350

    You are correct that this will start a war….well, an insurrection, which the tyrant’s gestapo and various militias are salivating for. It will be crushed easily, as the military has stated unequivocally it will not get involved with “internal issues”.

    It all boils down to what I have been saying for many months. The fix is in. Any media polling is irrelevant. All that matters is how many people actually get to cast a vote, and then how many of those votes are actually counted. There is only one way to remove a tyrant. History has proven that time and time again.

  2. Karma keeps working its magic:
    https://theweek.com/speedreads/941461/gop-reportedly-fears-losing-scotus-vote-more-senators-coronavirus

    Now it’s the Republicans trying to delay the SCOTUS hearings because, with 2 Senators (on the Judiciary cmte no less) out for quarantine, if they lose another one, they won’t have the votes to confirm the new Justice. They need to wait until the quarantine period is over and hope no other Senators come down with Covid.

    Unfortunately, I think they’ll still push through the confirmation. Even if they have to do it during the lame duck session.

    1. The fascists will simply do remote voting, in worst case scenario. The Judiciary Committee will gain a quorum of 9. In fact, they will get 11, even if the loser party boycotts.

      The religious fanatic will be on the bench prior to Nov 3rd. Last I heard, 3 fascist senators have tested positive. All 3 would have to die before the vote went to the Senate for the fanatic not be installed into SCOTUS. That is not going to happen.

      And while it is still a non-zero number, it appears the worst is over for the tyrant’s issues with this virus, he will survive, and be out and about very very soon. He will thank god, and some drug he has a fiduciary interest in, and just keep on rolling.

    1. Maybe.

      In that scenario, to prevent a “no decision” outcome in which the House Speaker would assume office on the rules of succession, the party of the winning candidate would try to influence the Electoral College voters, a majority of whom would presumably be from the winning party. At that point you run into the first big obstacle.

      32 states have rules against “faithless electors.” Most of those laws are toothless, but in 15 states Electors who don’t vote for the popular vote winner can be replaced. Those states are Michigan, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Indiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Washington, California, New Mexico, South Carolina, Oklahoma and North Carolina.

      Now, maybe no one in those states would move to enforce the law, letting the party do what it needed to do and replace the dead candidate. Or maybe they wouldn’t.

      An effort by the winning party to persuade their electors to pick someone else from their party as President could run into a problem, especially if the Electoral College tally was close. But it would be worth it.

      Let’s say that the winning party only persuaded a fraction of its electors to pick a backup Presidential candidate because others were bound by their state rules to stick with the winner. Further, imagine that persuading a minority of Electors to pick the substitute candidate resulted in the opposing party’s candidate having more electors, but none of the three resulting candidates gained a majority.

      The House would be obligated to choose the winner, but under the byzantine rules of the 12th amendment, they have to choose from among the top three candidates in the Electoral College.

      Under that circumstance, if the House refused to select as President the substitute candidate from the winning party, they’d be asking for a crisis. Even under the contentious circumstances we’re living under now, I can’t imagine that the Speaker would try to subvert the election result in such an obvious way, or that any such effort would stand.

      All the winning party would have to do is get enough electors to vote for their substitute candidate to land them in the top 3 and it would probably be enough.

      1. Two points: WaPo did deep analysis on presidential succession in 2016. Here’s the article. Note that there are two parts. Part 2 is linked within Part 1.

        Second. The Republican legislative majority in PA is trying to pass legislation that could authorize them to play all sorts of hanky panky with electors, ballots, ballot reports, etc. “If” they pass this (apparently they believe they have the votes), democrats would be forced to appeal it with republicans hoping it gets to Scotus. Here, with a conservative majority, this would become a template for other republican majority state legislatures (30 exist and five are swing states), tgey could finesse the popular vote and tge selection of tge electoral college.

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/05/16/what-happens-if-us-presidential-candidate-withdraws-or-dies-before-election-is-over-part-1/

        https://www.democracynow.org/2020/10/2/headlines/pennsylvania_election_integrity_commission_would_give_gop_power_to_disrupt_nov_3_election

      2. The Senate (the new one) determines the authenticity of the Electors. All Democrats would have to do in PA is assemble their electors, vote, and submit their electors. The Senate would decide which ones to accept.

      3. There are several problems with Republicans’ goofball plan for PA. First, all the senior Republicans in the state insist that they aren’t planning to do it. Second, the PA legislature has no more authority to select Electors than I do. Pursuant to 3 U.S. Code § 6, it is the duty of the state’s “executive,” the Governor, to certify who are the appropriate Electors to submit the state’s votes. Third, Congress retains the capacity to review and challenge any such submission.

        If Democrats control both Houses, as is expected. Then the outcome is plain and this whole effort would be for nothing.

        Per 3 U.S. Code § 15, if there remains a split between the House and Senate on the credential of Electors, and Republicans in the Senate had the chutpah to back the gonzo Electors, they still lose. In the event of a split decision between the House and Senate, the only votes that count are the ones with the approval of that state’s Governor, who in PA’s case is a Democrat.

        Leaving aside for a moment that this stunt would start a war and no one appears to be seriously considering it, it also simply wouldn’t work.

  3. This happened in my State House district back in 2006. Glenda Dawson was the incumbent, and she died suddenly about 6 weeks before the election. Her name stayed on the ballot, she won, then there was a special election to pick her successor. Ironically that was also the year Tom Delay withdrew after winning the GOP primary, which forced the GOP to have no official candidate and attempt to hold the seat with a write-in candidate. That was thwarted by straight-ticket voting, much to the chagrin of Shelly Sekula-Gibbs.

    The first thing I thought when I heard that Trump caught Covid-19 was “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.” This was predictable, and preventable. Because of that, the fact that his willful ignorance has caused pain to millions and millions of the people he who had sworn to serve and protect, and because he will not learn a goddamned thing if he survives this, I have zero sympathy for his self-inflicted plight.

  4. I was wondering about that, thanks. I already mailed back my ballot a few days ago. All else being equal I would rather Joe not die anytime soon.

    Shout-out to Aaron’s comment that “in a week we could all be rubbernecking at something else”. Taxes were the biggest story for not even five full days.

    1. Saw a joke about how some future history students will be able the write a dissertation on just October 1-2 2020, because so much shit went down on just those two days.

      I’ve read that Trump skipped the required Covid test before the debate, but they just took his word that he was OK and gave him a pass. Some people never learn. He probably had it on debate night. I’m hoping the HVAC system in that room was very good, and that Joe was far enough away from all Trumpy’s frothing and ranting.

      1. The acceptance of his unproven claim to be well before the debate, and the members of his party at the debate who removed their masks after entering the hall and then refused to wear them, are relevant to anyone trying to set safety standards.

        The Cleveland Clinic was theoretically in charge of safety for the event, but it seems they developed guidelines they couldn’t enforce.

        In all daily commerce, even burly guards on our [masked] side are powerless in the case of such dishonesty and lack of concern for others.

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