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What happens if a candidate goes off the rails a quarter-mile before getting to the station?
September 25, 2008 6:59 PM   Subscribe

What would happen if a presidential candidate had a career-ending nervous breakdown a month out from the general election?

Say somebody actually snaps under the stress. Would the party reconvene an emergency convention to select a new candidate? Is there a protocol or precedent for this?
posted by Camofrog to Law & Government (10 answers total)
 
The party would pick someone else. There are some catches.

Some states don't allow you to change the person on the ballot. It depends on the state. Some states don't allow changes within days, some weeks, some months. The ballots are usually finalized after late summer runoffs. There are 50 individual state elections and they all have different rules, different standards. The only thing they have in common in is the election date, and that isn't even completely true because in 11 states you can vote right now.
posted by Fairchild at 7:21 PM on September 25, 2008


What would happen if a presidential candidate had a nervous breakdown a month out from the general election?

I am pretty sure that in today's system, they'd just reschedule the debates, up the candidate's dosage, and continue. Tougher things have been sold by relentless talking points, ducking interviews, and adding media spin.
posted by rokusan at 7:37 PM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


You're not talking about anyone I know, are you?

But seriously -
I think the restrictions that @Fairchild mentions present a serious enough deterrent - not to mention the loss of momentum and good-will that such a change would mean - realistically indicate that the party in question would do everything in its power to drag the candidate across the finish line, breakdown or no.
posted by AngerBoy at 7:54 PM on September 25, 2008


Fairchild is correct, but keep in mind also: there are no presidential candidates on the ballot; you can not vote for them directly. You vote for electors, who are "pledged" to cast ballots for a particular candidate. Once elected, they constitute the Electoral College which actually elects the next president.

So, if a candidate is withdrawn from the race at a point where it is too late to remove his or her name from the ballot, or after the election but before the electors cast ballots (which is in their respective state capitals on on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, or December 15 this year), any electors pledged to that candidate can vote for someone else, presumably the replacement designated by the party.

This is actually one of the arguments in favor of the much-maligned electoral system—it allows for the election to proceed in the event of the death or disability of the candidate, rather than having to change the ballots or face an ambiguous situation.

This could have come into play in the 1872 election when the Democratic candidate, Horace Greeley, died after the election but before the meetings of the Electoral College. In that situation, however, Ulysses S. Grant, the Republican, had won a clear majority of the electors, so there was no need for the Democrats to name a replacement. Electors pledged to Greeley voted for several different alternative candidates, and a few voted for the dead man.
posted by beagle at 7:57 PM on September 25, 2008 [8 favorites]


To consider the next step, what happens if the president-elect goes off the rails, but is not medically incapacitated, 10 days before the inauguration i.e. after Congress has counted & ratified the EC ballots? Any way to stop that person becoming the POTUS?
posted by Gyan at 8:36 PM on September 25, 2008


hm. didn't this happen to russ perot? i seem to recall he dropped out due to a conspiracy theory for a day or two.

technically we don't vote for presidents/vice presidents, we vote for delegates to a convention. if it was before the election--and i don't think any amount of drugs and pr would be able to hide a breakdown--the party bosses would nominate another. the same would occur post election, but it would be a much tougher interparty battle because the prize was already won.
posted by lester at 10:03 PM on September 25, 2008


You're writing a book, right? This isn't a purely hypothetical question that would violate the guidelines, right?

What Fairchild and beagle say is correct (although we don't actually have elector names on the ballot here; maybe it's different in your state?). The ballot lists the Pres/VP combos, but we are technically voting for electors. FWIW, up until the early 1900s many states had their legislatures choose the actual electors.

A month before the election it's too late to put different candidate names on all the 50 state ballots. Some states actually had ballot deadlines that were technically before the actual party conventions. Assuming the electors did not want to vote for a deranged candidate (!) they would vote for someone else. Presumably the leaders of that party would choose and "suggest" someone for those electors to vote for, but legally they can vote for whoever they want.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:30 AM on September 26, 2008


You're writing a book, right? This isn't a purely hypothetical question that would violate the guidelines, right?

No book. This is a purely hypothetical question, albeit inspired by actual current events.
posted by Camofrog at 8:57 AM on September 26, 2008


What if a candidate had a career-ending nervous breakdown because of surreptitiously administered psychoactive drugs? Eh? What then, wiseguys?
posted by grobstein at 11:42 AM on September 26, 2008


To consider the next step, what happens if the president-elect goes off the rails, but is not medically incapacitated, 10 days before the inauguration i.e. after Congress has counted & ratified the EC ballots?

It would be an improvement. HA! Try the veal.

Any way to stop that person becoming the POTUS?

Can the person show up and take the oath of office? Then this would apply:
Amendment XXV

[..]

Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.
If the president-elect couldn't or doesn't show up to be inaugurated, I would have to think the Supreme Court would have to get involved. The Constitution seems to be silent on the matter. Probably what would happen is that the vice president elect would take the oath as acting vice president and then the lawsuits would fly.
posted by gjc at 9:23 PM on September 26, 2008


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