If a presidential candidate in the USA drops out of the race before (or during) election day, but after early voting has begun, what happens to that party's ticket?

For example, if Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton drop out of the 2016 American presidential race now (October, 2016), what happens?

The vice presidential candidates on their tickets are not running for the office of president, so it's not clear if the "line of succession" would be implemented or something else would happen.

2 Answers 2


Who will be the new nominee?

Simple answer:

The US Constitution does not have any rules or procedures to fill in the vacancy, thus the party gets to decide.

Long answer:

The parties will get to decide their new nominee. The vice-presidential candidate will not be given any special consideration, and will remain if another candidate is selected. Nor will those candidates in the primaries.

They can pretty much choose anyone they want, just that the candidate can garner enough votes from the officials. There's no line of succession.


Both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party follow similar procedures.

According to the rules of the Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee is responsible to nominate another nominee. Party officials would each cast one vote at a special meeting and the winner is whoever gets the majority. Party officials would be the "superdelegates".

Article Two, Section Seven of the Democratic Party bylaws states that

"a special meeting to fill a vacancy on the National ticket shall be held on the call of the Chairperson."

For the Republican Party, the Republican National Committee will choose the new nominee.


Since the nominees are officially nominated by their party, the party cannot force them to step them. Only the candidates can make the decisions themselves.

How about those who already voted?

For all of those voters who already cast ballots through absentee or early voting, the new candidate will get all their votes.

This is because when voters are not really voting for a presidential candidate but instead voting to select the representative that will represent their state at the Electoral College.

Representatives of the Electoral College, who are bound a particular candidate according to their state's results, will then meet in December to officially elect the next American president.

Articles to check out:

I've found some articles that addresses this issue and would be useful to check it out:

  • If a candidate drops out this late, wouldn't there be deadline issues with getting a new name on the ballot in most states at all?
    – Geobits
    Oct 14, 2016 at 4:21
  • @Geobits Yes, their names will remain but voters will be voting for the new candidate
    – Panda
    Oct 14, 2016 at 6:30
  • Your assertion that the candidate can't be forced out by the party isn't true, but it is unlikely that such a thing would occur. Oct 14, 2016 at 14:29
  • 2
    The articles cited fail to mention a key fact. If the presidential nominee dies just before the election, there isn't enough time to change the name on the ballots because the ballots have already been printed up. So regardless of what the party's central committees might decide to do, the candidate actually getting the votes would be a dead candidate no matter who the party nominates to replace him or her. I don't know of any law that allows parties or states to transfer votes from dead candidates to living candidates. Mar 11, 2020 at 1:31
  • 1
    What if someone independent runs? Who gets to decide then? Oct 2, 2020 at 6:37


Party elections would be held to select new candidate(s). Plus, election could be delayed by Congress (specially if both main candidates drop out).

Here is an article exploring the case of President Trump or Biden dying of Covid-19 from the point of view of two experts.

It says:

Dr Richard H. Pildes, professor of Constitutional Law at New York University, was asked the question by the Washington Post in August. His answer: The ball would be in the hands of the candidate's political party.

The Democratic National Committee apparently has a clear rule for such a situation. It would choose the new nominee in consultation with the party leadership, including Democratic state governors.

But that does not mean a certain outcome, as it is subject to a vote. For example, if Mr Biden were to die, it is not certain whether the substitute would be his running mate Senator Kamala Harris or his primary runner-up Senator Bernie Sanders.

Vice-President Mike Pence, who would become president in the event of Mr Trump's death, would be a top choice for the Republican Party - but not the certain pick.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) has similar rules. It has 168 members - three from each state plus three from six territories. A vote will have to be held. The parties would then have to replace the name of their deceased candidate with that of the new candidate on each state's ballot.

"Depending on when this happens, that might not be simple," Dr Pildes said.

"Different states have different deadlines for when the parties must certify their candidates for the ballot."

Also, if states do not have laws that permit changing the candidate's name, any change may be challenged in court - although courts would be unlikely to refuse the new nomination if the party process has been followed.

Separately Prof Rick Hasen, professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California at Irvine, writes: "The problem here is that ballots are already out and millions of people have already voted. At this point, it seems impossible for candidates to come up with a new name to replace a name on the ballot without starting the whole election process over, which is not possible in the 30-plus days before election day. Congress could pass a Bill delaying the election but I find it hard to believe it would do so."

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