Skip to Content

What Happens If a Candidate Dies?

In the complex process of electing a President in the United States, there is no specific rule set by the Federal government to handle the situation if a candidate, projected to receive electoral votes, dies or becomes unable to perform their duties between the general election and the meeting of electors.

This meeting, where representatives from each state formally cast their votes, is a crucial part of the Electoral College system.

However, individual states might have their own laws that dictate how electors should cast their votes during this meeting.

These rules can vary widely and lead to different outcomes depending on the state’s specific regulations.

A historical example helps to illustrate this lack of clarity. In the election of 1872, candidate Horace Greeley passed away between Election Day and the meeting of electors.

The situation was unprecedented, and the electors who were expected to vote for Greeley were left to decide for themselves.

They ended up voting for various candidates, including Greeley himself. Ultimately, a resolution in the House of Representatives ruled that the votes cast for Greeley would not be counted.

This event highlighted the absence of a clear process for handling such an unusual situation.

Moving further along in the electoral process, there’s also uncertainty about what would happen if a candidate were to die or become incapacitated between the meeting of electors and the counting of electoral votes in Congress.

The U.S. Constitution does not specifically define when a candidate becomes the “President-elect” or “Vice President-elect.”

This creates ambiguity in some situations. If a candidate has a majority of the electoral votes and is considered “President-elect” before the electoral votes are counted in Congress, §3 of the 20th Amendment comes into play.

This section clarifies that the Vice President-elect will take on the role of President if the President-elect dies or becomes unable to fulfill the duties of the office.

Similarly, if a winning Presidential candidate dies or becomes incapacitated between the counting of electoral votes in Congress and the inauguration (the ceremony where the President is officially sworn in), the Vice President-elect steps up to become President, as dictated by the same §3 of the 20th Amendment.

These scenarios expose some of the ambiguities and complexities in the U.S. electoral process.

While certain contingencies are addressed in the Constitution, others are left open to interpretation and may be governed by state laws or Congressional resolutions.

The situation in 1872 remains a notable example of how unexpected events can challenge the system and lead to unprecedented solutions.