What Happens if Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton dies after the election?

Recent reports have detailed concerns regarding Hillary Clinton’s health. A video taken yesterday concerns me very much, and I will share it below. Other videos seem to contain possible inaccuracies; therefore, I am not comfortable sharing them. Suffice to say that according to some reports, including allegedly leaked medical records, Clinton may be suffering from advanced Parkinson’s Disease and or vascular dementia. One of the leaked records suggested that Clinton has less than a year to live. Again, I don’t feel like it is proper to share these videos.

But this recent video purportedly shows Clinton fainting and being shucked away by the Secret Service:

If Clinton is in fact ill, this does not bode well for her ability to assume office. Other videos that I have watched show Clinton experiencing a seizure or other serious neurological tic:

or Clinton at the Democratic National Convention:

Are these head jerks, collapses and gaped-mouth stares cause for concern? Perhaps.

And that brings to mind certain scenarios that we never even discussed in law school or in my undergraduate constitutional history classes. We never, discussed, for example, the case of Horace Greeley.

Horace Greeley
Horace Greeley

In 1872, when Horace Greeley passed away between Election Day and the meeting of electors, the electors who were slated to vote for Greeley voted for various candidates, including Greeley. The votes cast for Greeley were not counted due to a House resolution passed regarding the matter.[1]

Presumably, if Clinton died between the general election and the meeting of electors, it is likely that the House would pass a resolution that votes cast for Clinton would not matter. Unfortunately, the laws at first glance appear to be unclear:

Under federal law, the electors pledged to the deceased candidate may vote for the candidate of their choice at the meeting of electors. Individual states may pass laws on the subject, but no federal law proscribes how electors must vote when a candidate dies or becomes incapacitated.[2]

So apparently, the Electoral College could be thrown into a certain amount of chaos if Clinton were to pass away between the time of the general election and the meeting of electors. Then again, the electoral system often seems chaotic; take, for example, the Bush/Gore election in 2000. Eventually, though, the election was decided, albeit by the United States Supreme Court.

A few more complications could arise if Clinton passed away after the election. Let’s say the electors among the various states could not agree on a candidate after the matter was sent to them. If no candidate received 270 electoral votes, then the election would be sent to the House of Representatives. Then, the House of Representatives would have to choose a President from the top three vote getters at the Electoral College. Amendment XII governs this scenario:

The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice.

So in the case of the Clinton/Trump election, if Clinton died, and the electoral college met, they could come up with the following result:hillary_clinton_testimony_to_house_select_committee_on_benghazi

Donald Trump:          230

Hillary Clinton:          170

Tim Kaine:                 130

Jill Stein:                     008


Keep in mind, these numbers aren’t meant to serve as predictors of the election. You could switch them around anyway you want, but so long as no one gets 270 electoral votes, that candidate couldn’t win the electoral college election.

So at this point, the matter would devolve to the House of Representatives to choose the President, and the Senate to choose the Vice-President. The House would choose among the top three vote-getters, and thus (assuming representatives did not cast votes for the deceased Clinton) the runoff would be between Trump and Kaine. Each state would receive one vote. And once the House reached a final decision, Kaine or Trump would be declared the President-Elect.

Tim Kaine
Tim Kaine

The scenario is a bit different if Clinton were to pass away after the meeting of the Electoral College and the Inauguration. According to Section 3 of the Twentieth Amendment:

“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 Clinton dies after the general election AND after the electoral college meets, but before the inauguration, the Vice-President elect (Tim Kaine) would become President.

And finally, if Clinton dies after her inauguration, the Constitution provides that the Vice President will become President. After being sworn in, Kaine would then choose a Vice President who would then have to be confirmed by both Houses of Congress.[3]

One last scenario is this one: Clinton dies very close to the election. What would happen? Unfortunately, there’s no precedent for this. Very likely, the ballots would have already been printed, and the Democratic Party would instruct voters to cast their vote for her, with the intent of allowing the problem to be resolved by the Electoral College and its electors. The situation would be chaotic at best.

The good news, though, is this: our democratic system is strong. We have procedures in place to deal with just about every eventuality. Should the unthinkable happen, and should Clinton pass away after the election, an orderly process should ensue that will ensure the continuation of our democratic system. We have, after all, lost Presidents. Should we lose a Presidential candidate or even a President-Elect, we will carry on. It’s what we do as Americans.

[1] See https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/print_friendly.html?page=faq_content.html&title=U.%20S.%20Electoral%20College%3A%20Frequently%20Asked%20Questions

[2] See https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/print_friendly.html?page=faq_content.html&title=U.%20S.%20Electoral%20College%3A%20Frequently%20Asked%20Questions

[3] Section 2 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment.