Late Secondary Election Candidates Possible? UT Election Expert Answers

Richard Pacelle

Rich Pacelle

With weekly revelations attempting to put both US presidential candidates in a bad light, some political pundits and members of both parties have gone so far as to suggest that Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton should step down.

With only three weeks before the November 8 election, what would happen if a presidential candidate were to drop off the ticket?

“There is no precedent and a lot of gray area. Undoubtedly it would lead to chaos and legal action,” said Rich Pacelle, head of the Department of Political Science.

“The problem for either party is that close to a million votes have been cast in early voting making it imperative—one would think—to stick closely to the script and stay with the running mate. The Republicans might presumably advance Pence and the Democrats might advance Kaine.”

But in this turbulent election season where the unexpected has happened, anything is possible.

“States without early voting or where it has not begun yet could presumably change the ballots,” Pacelle said.

If Republican candidate Donald Trump were to step down, there is a strong presumption—but no guarantee—that vice presidential candidate Mike Pence would head the ticket, he said. GOP leaders would meet to determine who would take over, and Pence would be the overwhelming favorite.

“Having Pence on the ticket would make for the least amount of chaos,” Pacelle said. “It would be the easiest to argue that a vote for Trump should be translated to a vote for Pence than to say a vote for Trump should be transferred to someone else who might emerge at the last minute.”

Similarly, if Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton were to step down, the overwhelming presumption would be that vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine would step to the front of the ticket, Pacelle said.

“He has been fully vetted. He was approved by the convention,” Pacelle said. “He has campaigned around the country.

“I am sure that some voices would argue for someone like current Vice President [Joe] Biden to be put at the head of the ticket. But I would guess those voices would be overwhelmed,” Pacelle said, adding, “We are in uncharted waters.”

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Lola Alapo (865-974-3993, lalapo@utk.edu)