Saturday, August 23, 2008

One kind of limbo: a party's nominee becomes unavailable after the party's convention but before the Electoral College meets

As we learned this week from the sudden loss of Stephanie Tubbs Jones, people can be struck by illness or encounter other difficulties that make them unavailable even for highly important future events. Whether Republican or Democrat, and regardless of which Republican or Democrat, I certainly hope that whoever becomes his or her party's official nominee after the respective party conventions will remain available to serve as President if elected freely and fairly by the voters of this country.

That said, it is entirely reasonable to be asked, as I have been, to explain what happens if, between the time of actual nomination but before the Electoral College meets, a presidential candidate becomes unavailable to hold office. (For general information about the Electoral College, I recommend this site.)

Remember: when voters vote in the general election, they do not vote directly for any Presidential candidate. They vote for electors from their states. These electors then meet to determine the President-Elect who, in recent time times, takes office in January, assuming availability.

So, the question on the table for this post is, what happens if after the Democrat Convention this coming week or after the Republican Convention in early September, the official nominee of either Party becomes unavailable before a President-Elect is elected by the Electoral College? My best informed understanding of the answer follows.

The Constitution does not address this issue directly nor does any federal law of which I am aware. Presumably then, the DNC or RNC would have to select an alternative candidate. Again as far as I know, neither DNC nor RNC rules provide for this situation, so the matter would become one of the leaders of each to decide how to proceed to name a new nominee.

An example: Suppose Senator McCain becomes the Republican Party nominee at the Republican National Convention. Then assume he withdraws or becomes otherwise unavailable to run in the general election, or after running in the general election he withdraws or becomes otherwise unavailable, prior to the Electoral College vote. The RNC leadership would then have to decide whose name to put before the Electoral College, perhaps first deciding upon a process by which to make this decision.

The same holds for the DNC and the Democratic Party's winning nominee after this week.

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