In several states, Electors can be disqualified for refusing to vote for the candidate who received the most votes. One such example is Arizona (the first one alphabetically with such a requirement), where Section 16-212 of the Revised Statute sets out as follows:

B. After the secretary of state issues the statewide canvass containing the results of a presidential election, the presidential electors of this state shall cast their electoral college votes for the candidate for president and the candidate for vice president who jointly received the highest number of votes in this state as prescribed in the canvass.

C. A presidential elector who knowingly refuses to cast that elector's electoral college vote as prescribed in subsection B of this section is no longer eligible to hold the office of presidential elector and that office is deemed and declared vacant by operation of law.

The closest thing that I am able to find in other parts of the statute is what happens in the event of a candidate's death after ballots have been printed (16-343(D)), which suggests to me that an alternative person could run in his place as a write-in candidate, but the vacancy on the ballot itself would not be filled, meaning that votes cast for (electors for) the deceased candidate would still count for the deceased candidate, and not his replacement.

In this scenario, given 16-212, would the Electors be required to vote for the deceased candidate if he receives the most votes? Given that Congress has rejected Electoral Votes in the past that were cast for deceased candidates (in 1872, for example), would the Electors of this state be able to vote at all?

3 Answers 3


They would have to vote as instructed by that state's supreme court, or the SCOTUS if it was appealled there and the SCOTUS decided it had jurisdiction.

The likely set of events would be, for example "Biden wins AZ" Biden dies. The DNC announces that Harris is the new candidate. AZ electors vote for Harris.

Now if the Republican party sues, then the courts would have to decide if the law truly compels the electors to vote for a deceased candidate. If the court decides that they must cast invalid votes, then the law is an ass (as the saying goes)

More likely the court would consider that the instruction to cast votes for the Candidate who received the most votes would naturally mean that if that candidate had died, then their natural successor should receive the votes, ie the vice presidential candidate.

  • 11
    So to summarize: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
    – Joe C
    Oct 4, 2020 at 13:51
  • 2
    "as instructed by that state's supreme court": how would the case come before a court? Who would have standing to sue?
    – phoog
    Oct 4, 2020 at 15:31
  • 2
    The republican party (state or national) or the republican presidential candidate would have been disadvantaged, so would potentially have standing, whether they do would be the first matter for the court to decide.
    – James K
    Oct 4, 2020 at 18:12
  • 1
    It would be much better for the example to use fictitious candidate names.
    – agc
    Oct 4, 2020 at 22:39
  • 2
    @JoeC: TBH, that's the answer to most legal questions involving the electoral college. Oct 5, 2020 at 11:01

In the event of a Presidential candidate's death after the printing of ballots, would the Electors of certain states be able to vote at all?

Yes, that votes must be made is mandatory (for both president and vice-president); however, given enough time, each affected state legislature could meet to override such a vote. Whether any such vote, or override of such vote, for president and vice-president is accepted will be determined by the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, respectively.

[The following is copied from my answer at: Must a minimum time pass before the Vice-President replaces the elected President in the US?. That question has some issues with clarity, while this question is a better fit for my answer.]

Morbid Political Curiosity

With all of the talk of Sen. John McCain's age and reports of heightened Secret Service protection for Sen. Barack Obama, I wonder: Are there are any guidelines for succession if either were to die or become incapacitated before becoming president?


If a presidential or vice-presidential candidate is incapacitated between a party's nominating convention and the meeting of the Electoral College, the party's central committee would gather to pick a substitute candidate. Again, what's interesting about this timeline is that the intervening general election (that supposedly huge day between the conventions and the Electoral College balloting) would turn out to be fairly irrelevant. While a party would presumably feel great pressure to appoint its vice presidential candidate as its presidential candidate, it could probably choose someone else.


Okay, that is the long answer. The short answer is that, in the unfortunate event a candidate is incapacitated in the period between the election and the inauguration, the party and Congress would improvise, and disaffected individuals would take the matter to the courts, and the Supreme Court would tell us what the rules are. And just for fun, as it did in 2000, the court might add that its decision has no precedential value for future elections. [Embolding added.]

However, political parties are not legislatures and state laws would apply. And, state laws are not uniform on the subject.

The Uniform Law Commission also known as the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) provides sources for applicable state laws and proposed legislation on the subject.

  • ULC

The Uniform Law Commission (ULC, also known as the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws), established in 1892, provides states with non-partisan, well-conceived and well-drafted legislation that brings clarity and stability to critical areas of state statutory law.


A non-profit, unincorporated association consi[s]ting of commissioners appointed by each state, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands. The purpose of this organization is to discuss and debate which areas of the law require uniformity among the states and territories. The NCCUSL drafts Uniform Acts accordingly. The results of these discussions are proposed to the various jurisdictions as either model acts (such as the Model Penal Code) or uniform acts (such as the Uniform Commercial Code).

Using the table of state laws concerning electors and candidates,

  • Iowa (death or removal before the general election)

§ 54.5 If a presidential or vice-presidential candidate dies or is removed from the ballot before the general election, the state central committee of the political party or the governing committee of the national party can find a substitute candidate.

  • Massachusetts (death, withdrawal, or ineligibility of candidate)

MGL, ch. 53, § 8 Certificates of nomination made by convention or caucus have to include any provisions that are made for filling vacancies in case the candidate dies, withdraws or is otherwise ruled ineligible. State committees of the respective political parties nominate the presidential electors. Electors have to submit an acceptance form that includes a pledge by the presidential elector to vote for the candidate named in the filing.

  • Utah (death or felony conviction of [a] candidate)

Utah Code Ann § 20A13-304 If elector casts ballot for someone not nominated by the party of which he is an elector (except upon the death or felony conviction of that candidate) he will be considered to have resigned, his vote will not count, and the remaining electors will appoint another person to fill his vacancy

  • Colorado (and other National Popular Vote states)

CRS § 1-4-304 Each presidential elector shall vote for the presidential candidate and, by separate ballot, vice-presidential candidate who received the highest number of votes at the preceding general election in this state.

Many states require voting for "their designated party candidate" without specifically permitting the party to replace the candidate.

Some have no specific rule.

This lack of uniformity is what would allow "disaffected individuals [to] take the matter to the courts".

--- Due to the lack of uniformity in state laws, the ULC has prepared a draft proposal, March 2009, to address the issue.
[Note: this has not been submitted to the states.]


(a) If before the meeting of electors, the winning presidential candidate dies, the political party that nominated the winning slate of electors shall notify the [Secretary of State] that the winning vice-presidential candidate is to be substituted as its candidate for President, and it shall further inform the [Secretary of State] of a substitute candidate it has selected for Vice-President. If before the meeting of electors, the winning vice-presidential candidate dies, the political party shall notify the [Secretary of State] of a substitute candidate it has selected for Vice-President. If before the meeting of electors both the winning presidential candidate and the winning vice-presidential candidate die, the political party shall notify the [Secretary of State] of substitute candidates it has selected for both offices.


SCOTUS actually commented on this recently in Chiafalo v. Washington (Pg 17, footnote 8)

The Electors contend that elector discretion is needed to deal with the possibility that a future presidential candidate will die between Election Day and the Electoral College vote. We do not dismiss how much turmoil such an event could cause. In recognition of that fact, some States have drafted their pledge laws to give electors voting discretion when their candidate has died. See, e.g., Cal. Elec. Code Ann. § 6906; Ind. Code § 3-10-4-1.7. And we suspect that in such a case, States without a specific provision would also release electors from their pledge. Still, we note that because the situation is not before us, nothing in this opinion should be taken to permit the States to bind electors to a deceased candidate.

I noted a similar sentiment in another answer; that in an emergency (in that case, all Federal representatives are dead), states that might not be represented if they don't act tend to get things done quickly. No state is going to want to tell their voters "Sorry, your votes didn't count because we won't allow our electors to vote for anyone but the dead candidate".

There's also this point from this analysis

As Professor Pildes notes, both parties have party rules that permit them to substitute a new nominee. The RNC’s 168 members have a process to do that. If Republicans wanted to select someone other than Mike Pence, this would be fairly straightforward: The party announces a new nominee, and the electors vote for that nominee. Professor Pildes suggests that they would and should probably just ignore the faithless-elector laws, which have relatively mild penalties. It would be an extraordinary step for Congress to decline to count those.

It would be deeply unpopular if, say, a state with faithless elector laws prosecuted a faithless elector who voted for the person put forth by the party of the deceased candidate (i.e. Biden dies on Oct 31, wins a state with such laws, and they prosecute the elector for voting for Harris instead).

  • It would be better for the "i.e." to use fictitional candidate names.
    – agc
    Oct 4, 2020 at 22:44

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