A candidate for the US presidential election has never left the race five weeks before the poll, but the hospitalization of Donald Trump, who tested positive for the coronavirus, raises questions about this possibility.
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The Constitution only provides for two cases in which the president can be replaced by his vice-president in the event of death or inability to exercise power: the 20th amendment for an elected president who has died on the date set for taking office, January 20, and the 25th Amendment during his tenure.
But other scenarios can be considered should Mr. Trump, 74, or his Democratic opponent Joe Biden, 77, defect before the November 3 election.
It would be a first in the history of the United States and it is unlikely. Even in 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, the presidential election was held on schedule.
The idea, raised at the end of July by Donald Trump, had caused an outcry. The date of the elections being fixed by a federal law, only Congress can take an initiative in this direction. It would then be up to the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and the Republican-majority Senate to agree on a new date.
“It is unlikely that a majority of Democrats will agree to postpone the poll,” said Capri Cafaro, professor at American University, while Joe Biden is leading in the national polls.
The Democratic and Republican parties are planning to replace a candidate if he could not run for president, but it also seems unlikely so close to the poll.
The new Democratic candidate is expected to be selected by the approximately 450 members of the party’s national commission (DNC).
For the Republican Party, it would be up to 168 members of the National Commission (RNC) to select a new candidate. The RNC could also convene its national convention and let its 2,500 delegates choose a replacement.
In either case, the new Republican candidate would be elected by simple majority.
Another logistical problem would arise, as tens of millions of ballots have already been printed.
“There is not enough time to reprint ballots with the names of Mike Pence or Kamala Harris,” said Capri Cafaro, referring to the running mates of the two candidates.
In addition, more than 3.1 million voters have already voted by mail due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a study from the University of Florida.
Finally, the deadline for presenting a candidate has already passed in several states.
If Americans vote for a presidential candidate, the winner is the one who brings together under his name the majority of the 538 voters, who make up the electoral college.
The names of the members of the electoral college, for the most part elected and local officials of their parties, do not appear on the ballot papers and the overwhelming majority are unknown to the general public.
Each state has a number of electors equal to that of its members in the House of Representatives (which varies according to the population) and in the Senate (two per state). California has 55 electors, Texas has 38, less populous states like Alaska, Delaware, and Vermont have just three.
The electorate vote is governed by the laws of the states in the United States, which virtually all – except Nebraska and Maine – give the full votes to the winner of the popular vote.
The Constitution does not oblige to follow this voting instruction. But in July, the United States Supreme Court ruled that “disloyal” large voters could be punished if they were free from the choice of citizens.
The electoral college will meet on December 14 to officially designate the winning ticket and each party could theoretically order them to vote for the replacement candidate.
On January 6, 2021, after the official count of the votes, Congress will solemnly announce the name of the next tenant of the White House who will be sworn in on January 20.