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What if Joe Biden or Donald Trump fail to finish the race?

What if Joe Biden or Donald Trump fail to finish the race?
What if Joe Biden or Donald Trump fail to finish the race?

 


WASHINGTON With the longest-running presidential candidates in U.S. history, the question arises of what would happen if President Joe Biden or former President Donald Trump become incapacitated before Election Day.

The short answer is that the longer the election season goes on, the more difficult it will be to determine what would happen if a candidate died or had to withdraw from the race.

Polls show voters fear Trump, 78, and Biden, 81, are too old for the presidency, reinforcing speculation that either could leave the race unexpectedly or never take its functions.

But the Constitution does not specify how a vacancy would be resolved in certain scenarios.

There are many gray areas, said Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University. No major candidate has ever been replaced.

Lichtman said the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee have bylaws that dictate what would happen if a presidential candidate withdraws before their national nominating conventions, which begin July 15 for the GOP and Aug. 19 for the Democrats.

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In these cases, individual delegates would decide the party's candidate on the convention floor. But whoever Trump chooses as his vice presidential nominee may not be the automatic choice of Republican delegates.

Current Vice President Kamala Harris would be elevated to president if Biden can no longer hold office. But Harris wouldn't necessarily be the delegates' choice to replace the person who was supposed to be at the top of the list.

There could be a messy fight and a lot of chaos over which party to choose. Still, David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University, said that at this point in the campaign, the political problem that arises would be relatively easy to resolve.

However, over time the situation will become increasingly risky, Schultz said.

If a candidate leaves the race after the national conventions, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have slightly different procedures for choosing a replacement.

Under current party rules, which could be changed at this summer's conventions, the Democratic National Committee has the authority to fill a vacancy at the top of the ticket after the party's chairman, currently Jaime Harrison, consults with Democratic governors and congressional leaders. That could give Gov. Tim Walz, head of the Democratic Governors Association, an idea of ​​who would replace Biden.

If Trump were no longer in the race, under current rules, the Republican National Committee could either reconvene its national convention or select a new candidate itself.

Replacing a presidential candidate has never happened in this scenario.

But in 1972, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Senator Thomas Eagleton, resigned after the national convention. The Democratic National Committee was authorized to name a successor, and Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, running for president, nominated Ambassador Sargent Shriver as his replacement. This choice was accepted by the DNC.

An October surprise

The worst-case scenario, Schultz said, would be for a candidate to leave the race after the end of September but before the Nov. 5 election. It's a situation the professor calls a real October surprise.

Early voting begins in Minnesota on September 20, and military ballots are also sent to troops overseas around that date. Troops are encouraged to return these ballots as soon as possible after receipt.

So early voters and foreign military personnel could end up voting for a presidential candidate who is no longer in the running.

If that happens, each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia would follow their own rules on how to conduct elections as national parties scramble to fill the unexpected vacancy.

If that happens, it will be full employment for election lawyers, Schultz predicted.

Minnesota has no provision in state law for what would happen if a presidential candidate died after voting began in the state, said Cassondra Knutson, a spokeswoman for the secretary's office. of Minnesota State.

A court will have to step in to determine the next steps, depending on the timing, she said.

In Minnesota, this scenario played out with a candidate for U.S. Senate.

Eleven days before the 2002 election, Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone, running for re-election, was killed in a plane crash near Eveleth. About 25,000 Minnesotans had already voted early.

The state's DFL party wanted all ballots cast for Wellstone to be transferred to the new candidate it chose to run for Senate, former Vice President Walter Mondale. Or he wanted all 25,000 ballots invalidated.

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The state Supreme Court rejected those plans. It ruled that those who had voted early could request new ballots or vote at polling places on Election Day. Former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, a Republican, won the seat.

The problem is that the United States Supreme Court may not be able to intervene with a solution to a national presidential election because it has determined that candidate selection is an internal matter that is up to the parties. politicians to decide, because of their First Amendment rights.

There is no precedent for what could happen, Lichtman said.

A vacant position after the elections

A 2020 Congressional Research Service report on presidential succession says another contingency would arise in the event of a vacancy after the election, but before the voters who choose the president meet to vote in December.

This possibility has been the subject of speculation and debate, the CRS report says. Some commentators suggest that political parties, applying their internal procedures to fill presidential and vice-presidential vacancies, would appoint a replacement to receive the votes of departed elector candidates.

The CRS report says voters, selected for their loyalty to the party, should vote for the replacement candidate.

But this is not guaranteed, the report said.

The CRS also said it could be questioned when exactly a person becomes president-elect.

Is it after the electors meet in December, or after Congress meets to count the Electoral College votes on January 6? asked the Congressional Research Service. The CRS was certain of one thing. Under the 20th Amendment, if a president-elect dies, his running mate, the vice president-elect, becomes president.

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