AP EXPLAINS: What happens if a candidate for president dies?

The White House is shown Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
The White House is shown Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – It's a month before Election Day and President Donald Trump is in the hospital, infected with a virus that has killed more than 209,000 Americans. What happens in the election — already well underway — should his condition take a turn for the worse?

If the president is unable to serve, through illness or death, the 25th Amendment makes clear the powers of the presidency transfer to Vice President Mike Pence until the president regains the ability to perform his duties.

But what happens if a candidate for president dies before Election Day? Or right after? What happens if the winning candidate dies before Inauguration Day?

It's never happened in a country with a long transition between Election Day at the start of November and the start of a president's new term on Jan. 20. The Constitution, as well as state and federal election laws, would help guide the country through the process. But with no precedent, the outcome is far from certain.

The House of Representatives has the final say on who wins the presidency. Before the House might have to take charge, there are roles for political parties, state legislatures, the Electoral College, the courts and, most importantly, voters.

Here are some questions and answers about what might happen if a presidential candidate dies, before or after the election:


Yes, but not this close to Election Day. Nearly 63 million ballots have already been sent to voters, with nearly 3 million votes already cast. The deadline for candidates to withdraw has passed in all but two states — South Carolina and Connecticut — and their deadlines are a few days away.