In the wake of Hillary Clinton’s Sunday collapse at a 9/11 memorial ceremony, Democrat leaders are asking: “What if … ?” “What if she hasn’t been candid and is a lot sicker than they thought?” “What if it becomes apparent that she is too weak to campaign vigorously?”
“What if we have to reconsider her nomination because she chooses to step aside?”
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“Clarification from dem operatives @HillaryClinton pneumonia: Expect emergency DNC meeting to CONSIDER replacement,” MSNBC David Shuster tweeted Sunday evening.
The Clinton camp has insisted the nominee has no serious health problems and that attention to the issue amounts to right-wing conspiracy-mongering. But the latest incident has even mainstream media outlets like The Washington Post finally acknowledging the legitimacy of Clinton’s health concerns as an election issue.
“Hillary Clinton’s health just became a real issue in the presidential campaign,” read a Washington Post headline after the Clinton collapse Sunday.
The once unthinkable idea of the scandal-marred 2016 bid of Hillary Clinton being prematurely ended by a medical collapse has suddenly become an actual possibility. Democrats would have to be ready to replace her atop their ticket.
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The move would be unprecedented on the presidential level in modern history, but despite the fact some states are already voting and most have certified ballots, the precedents that do exist suggest Dems could still pull off a nominee swap. A move like that could clear the way for a Democratic white knight candidate like Vice President Joe Biden.
The rules of the party itself are straightforward enough. The Democratic Party chair could call a special meeting to fill a vacancy on the national ticket. But the ballots already have been certified in a majority of states.
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Based on precedent in non-presidential races, though, the party likely would be able to force states to change their ballots anyway.
“There’s been plenty of times a party has changed nominees as late as October, and the courts have always allowed it,” said Richard Winger, who runs a website call Ballot Access News.
The most recent high-profile candidate switch occurred in 2002, when scandal-plagued Sen. Robert Torricelli, trailing in the polls by double digits, dropped out 36 days before the election. It was past the statutory deadline, and Republicans objected. But the New Jersey Supreme Court blessed the move, and former Sen. Frank Lautenberg went on to reclaim his old seat.
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It is far from the only candidate swap. In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Cook County, Illinois, elections officials to reprint some three million ballots a little more than a week before a county commission election to include candidates from the Harold Washington Party. The high court later formally struck down a state law requiring a new political party and its candidates to gather more than 25,000 signatures to participate in elections for offices in political subdivisions.
In 1990, courts allowed the Minnesota Republican Party to replace its gubernatorial nominee nine days before the election. That occurred after allegations surfaced that nine years earlier, the nominee had swum naked with his underage daughter and tried to tear off the bathing suits of two of her friends.
By that point, 10,941 people already had cast ballots for him in early voting.
“The people who voted early were out of luck,” Winger said.
The replacement candidate, Arne Carlson, went on to win the election.
A presidential nominee of a major party never has been replaced. But two vice presidential nominees have. The most recent occurred on Aug. 1, 1972, when Tom Eagleton withdrew as George McGovern’s running mate after questions arose about treatment he received for depression. Winger said every state accepted the late switch.
“What really matters here is the voters have to be allowed to be the boss of the country,” he said.
And if worse came to worst, Winger said, a withdrawn candidate’s name could remain on the ballot and electors chosen to vote in the Electoral College could vote for the replacement candidate. A handful of states have laws attempting to block electors from voting for a candidate other than the one to whom they are pledged. But Winger said he doubts those laws would survive legal challenges.
“Those are not enforceable,” he said. “State law cannot overrule the Constitution.”
For what it’s worth, according to Ballotpedia, here are the ballot-certification deadlines that already have passed:
- Alabama, Sept. 6.
- Alaska, Sept. 1.
- Colorado, Sept. 9.
- Delaware, Aug. 2.
- Florida, Sept. 1.
- Hawaii, Sept. 9.
- Idaho, Sept. 1.
- Iowa, Aug. 19.
- Kentucky, Sept. 6.
- Louisiana, Aug. 16 or Aug. 19.
- Maine, Sept. 5.
- Michigan, July 29.
- Minnesota, Aug. 29
- Mississippi, Aug. 20.
- Missouri, Aug. 16.
- Montana, Aug. 24.
- Nebraska, Sept. 8
- Nevada, Aug. 30.
- New Jersey, Aug. 4.
- North Carolina, Aug. 5.
- North Dakota, Aug. 20.
- Ohio, Aug. 10.
- Oregon, Aug. 30.
- South Carolina, Aug. 9.
- Texas, Aug. 30.
- Utah, Aug. 31.
- Virginia, Aug. 26.
- West Virginia, Aug. 12.
- Wisconsin, Sept. 6.
- Wyoming, Aug. 20.