Contingency Plans

As I write this, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson is doign well in his battle with COVID-19. One wishes him a quick recovery, even if one doesn’t necessarily agree with his politics. It’s just the decent thing to do.

I don’t know if Great Britain has any plans or procedures to deal with the death or incapacity of their head of government, but the United States does. We have written rules to handle presidential succession.

But this is an election year…. And we’ve got a pair of septuagenarians running for the office. What happens if something happens?

I’m going to assume that each party has a plan in place for the situation where their nominee dies prior to the election. They had better. It probably involves the vice-presidential nominee moving up a level. It’s not unprecedented. There have been cases in state and local elections where a candidate died before the election – and the dead candidate even won. It won’t be easy, but if the parties have rules in place, we’ll have to go by their rules. It’s the party’s choice who they nominate, after all.

It gets weirder if it happens between Election Day and the inauguration. Given the rules for presidential succession, we’d probably just inaugurate the vice president.

The trickiest situation is if the president-elect dies after Election Day, but before the Electoral College votes to confirm the results of the election. Jeff Greenfield explored that situation in his novel The People’s Choice (1995). Are the electors required to endorse the vice-president, even if he (or she) is clearly incompetent? The matter is not entirely fiction. In December 1960, Richard Paul Pavlick planned to kill president-elect John Kennedy, but he got cold feet at the very last minute. The attempt happened one week before the Electoral College met…..

I think we had all better wish good health for all the candidates.

At least until the inauguration.

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