The recent question about a fictional character winning an election got me thinking about the not-a-citizen arguments from a previous election. There was a lot of talk about if he was an eligible candidate, but I never really knew what would happen if he was proven to be invalid. In this case, let's assume that the candidate filled out all required paperwork and was thought to be a completely valid candidate at the start of the election process.

So, I guess there are two scenarios to consider. What would happen if a President-elect was proven to be a non-citizen (or too young or something else that disqualified them) after winning the election but before swearing in? Also, what would happen if this proof turned up a year after they were sworn in? Do both scenarios play out the same as if the candidate/President had died or is there a different process since fraud was involved?

  • IANAL but I'm pretty sure that the only way to challenge the legitimacy of that would be through a court challenge, and the only way to bring a court challenge would be to show that there had been harm done to the plaintiff, so probably a lawsuit by the opposing party(s) to overturn the election results, possibly state-by-state?
    – David Rice
    Jan 31, 2019 at 16:03
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it belongs on Skeptics.SE. Jan 31, 2019 at 16:09
  • 4
    @drunkcynic I am not sure this would be on topic on skeptics as it has nothing to do with scientific skepticism.
    – Joe W
    Jan 31, 2019 at 16:12
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    @DrunkCynic, edited to remove the real world example because as I feared, people just can't handle it. There is nothing Skeptic related about this question. This is a question about a real political process.
    – JPhi1618
    Jan 31, 2019 at 16:13
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    This is all hypothetical, since nobody really knows what the Supreme Court would say. Skeptics.SE likes questions that can be answered with evidence. Jan 31, 2019 at 17:03

2 Answers 2


The Twentieth Amendment of the Constitution covers the case of a President-elect not meeting the qualifications to be President on inauguration day:

Section 3. If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.

So, if the President-elect was proven to not meet all of the requirements before the inauguration, then the Vice President-elect will become acting President until the elected President meets all of the requirements.

In the case of the President not being a natural-born citizen, they will have both failed to qualify at the start of their term and will never meet the requirements, therefore the Vice President will be acting President until either the end of the term or until Congress goes through the impeachment process.

  • That only works at the time fixed for the beginning of the term, though. If the President has already taken office, other steps would be needed. Possibly impeachment, or a SCOTUS decisions. I'm fairly sure it would require a co-equal branch, though.
    – David Rice
    Jan 31, 2019 at 16:47
  • @DavidRice Speculating on future events without evidence or foundational references is beyond the scope of Politics.se. Jan 31, 2019 at 17:36
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    @DrunkCynic That's just not true - answering questions about what the political process is in various circumstances is well within the scope of politics.se. No President has ever been removed from office via impeachment, but we could certainly answer the question of how Congress can remove a President from office.
    – David Rice
    Jan 31, 2019 at 18:26
  • @DavidRice If your answer includes qualifiers, such as "Possibly, fairly sure," or the like, there is only a narrow margin of error keeping it from being speculative. Jan 31, 2019 at 18:49
  • @DrunkCynic And those aren't in any of the answers, only comments.
    – David Rice
    Jan 31, 2019 at 18:50

There are several time frames involved here, and the answer is different in each.

Between the election and the voting of electors:

If the electors in a given state have not yet met and voted, then they will need to vote for someone who is eligible rather than the person they had pledged to vote for, since they would be Constitutionally prohibited from voting for their person. (And/or their vote would just be ignored, like if they abstained, since it isn't a valid vote.)

Between the voting of electors and certification by Congress:

This may go one of two ways, because the Twelfth Amendment doesn't explicitly give Congress the ability to avoid certifying whoever got the majority of the elector's votes as President. One possibility is that they will say they're obligated to certify what they were given, which will just pass the buck to the next timeframe. Another is that they will count all votes for other candidates, determine that no one who is eligible has a majority, and fall back to the "no majority" rules (House decides President, voting by states).

Between the certification by Congress and the swearing in:

The Twentieth Amendment specifies that:

if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified;

Thus the VP would be sworn in as VP and then become acting president.

After taking office:

This is where there's no clear framework for what would happen. Assuming the candidate was unaware of their ineligibility, it would be hard to justify impeaching them for "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors". But there's no other way to force a President out of office. Ideally, they would resign as soon as this was discovered. But in the case where they don't, we'd be in Constitutional Crisis territory. Maybe Congress will try to declare the position vacant. Maybe the Supreme Court will get involved. Maybe the VP will pull the equivalent of a coup on Constitutional grounds (which is very roughly what's happening in Venezuela right now). As with all Constitutional crises, the personality of the people involved and exact circumstances will inform whatever outcome ends up sticking, and none of that can be predicted in advance.

  • Any comments, downvoter? I'm certainly willing to address any valid criticism.
    – Bobson
    Feb 3, 2019 at 17:22

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