What happens if a candidate dies on election day?

…before the ballots have been counted?

Does it go to the opponent or to the VP?

Since voters aren’t voting for the candidates but for presidential electors, it seems to me that the electoral college would convene as planned, but the electors from the deceased candidate’s party would have to vote for someone else.

If you’re referring specifically to the presidential election, it’s all up to the Electoral College.

You’re not really voting for a president and vice president, you’re voting for a slate of electors who are pledged to cast their votes for those candidates when they meet. (This year, it’s on December 15th.) If one of the candidates dies any time during that interval, presuambly the electors are somewhat free to vote for anyone. Although, electors are chosen by being good party loyalists, and would be encouraged to vote for whomever the party put up in place of the deceased.

There’s a novel by Jeff Greenfield called The People’s Choice that deals with precisely such an event.


In 1872, the Liberal Republican (I’m not joking!) candidate for President (Horace Greeley) died on November 29th, after election day but before the Electoral College cast its votes. He won 66 votes, to President Grant’s 286 votes, so Grant won the election. Most of Greeley’s electors voted for Thomas A. Hendricks, and others for other candidates, including 3 for the dead Mr Greeley (thoe 3 votes were declared nvalid).

Could the electors choose to ignore the voter’s intent and assign their electoral votes to a different candidate? (without a candidate dying)

That happens from time to time. They’re called “faithless electors”. There’s never been enough of them to alter an election result, though.


In theory, yes.

Some states do have restrictions to prevent this, but they’ve never been tested legally (I could see the Supreme Court striking them down on strict constructionist grounds, since the founding fathers quite clearly did not expect electors to be bound).

As a practical matter, it would be political suicide for anyone who did it, and they are usually selected because they are supporters of the candidate, anyway.

But there have been many cases of “faithless electors.” One elector refused to vote for Al Gore in 2000, and another voted for Lloyd Benson in 1988.

There have been a total of 11 faithless electors out of the 20,000+ who have voted in the history of the Electoral College.

Yes. They wouldn’t dare though.

It seems like an unnecessary step, what does having actual electors guard against?

It’s an archaic remnant, and probably could be changed-- but it wasn’t changed after 2000, so I doubt it’ll ever be changed (unless, of course, one of those faithless electors changed the outcome of the election).

That said, I’m a fan of the EC. Here’s a balanced piece from MSNBC on the EC and potential reforms to it:


I’m with the arguments made by Ms Best-- the EC system (not necessarily the individual electors) creates incentives to “nationalize” the campaign, and also creates a hedge against voter fraud influencing a national direct election.

Alas, in practice the EC model does tend to marginalize urban voting, especially for GOP candidates.

But no system is perfect!

Rule by the masses, untrammelled democracy, etc., etc. Back 200 years ago, the gentlemen who wrote the Constitution did not foresee an era when every voter could hear every candidate speak in his/her* own home every day for many months before election day. They thought voters in New York would be unfamiliar with candidates from Virginia, and vice versa, so it would be better to place the matter in the hands of an elite who would be familiar with the candidates.

  • And they did not foresee that half the voters would be a “her”, or that a Black American might actually get elected as President.

I don’t see how having special people go vote changes that. Why can’t the governor or an appointed election official (returning officer) just turn up in Washington DC with a letter saying “Such-and-such state’s electoral votes go to…”? Why risk the, however slim, possibility that the will of the people be overturned?

The will of the people had nothing to do with it. Most electors in the early years of the USA were appointed by the state governments - not elected by the people.

Missed the edit window - to continue:

The original idea was that the electors would choose the president by themselves, exercising their own judgement. These days it’s felt that the people should elect the president, but the constitution had already been written so the system is stuck with electors.

The answer to this problem was to introduce a popular vote in each state to choose electors who are pledged to vote for a specific candidate - so that, for example, when an American “votes for Obama”, what he/she is really doing is voting for a group of potential electors who are pledged in turn to vote for Obama. These elector candidates are put up by the local Democratic party organisation and are party loyalists who can be relied on to cast their electoral votes the right way.

Ahh, I see now. Thanks!

Right, the original idea was not that whoever was choosing electors (originally the state legislators) would say “I’m choosing this elector because he’ll vote for John Smith”; supposedly, the folks choosing electors would say “I’m choosing this elector because he’s a wise, educated man, and I trust that he will make a good choice”.

What happened to the elector who refused to vote for Gore? Was it political suicide for him, as mentioned it would be? People here seem fairly certain its not anything to worry about, but seeing that it happened a couple times in recent history…

If an elector is not obligated by law to vote for the person whose name is on the ballot, then ballots need to list the elector names, and not the names of the candidates themselves. To do it any other way seems dishonest if not fraudulent.