The United States of America stands on the edge of an unprecedented constitutional crisis.
Donald Trump’s positive Covid-19 test, just over a month before election day, leaves the process in doubt.
And even White House insiders are saying they don’t know how this pans out.
The US president, who is in a high risk category due to his age and because he is considered overweight, tweeted in the early hours of Friday: “Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19.
“We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!”
The President’s doctors say his symptoms remain mild – a slight fever, fatigue and cold-like symptoms.
And he’s got the best care available in the United States.
But the President is also elderly and overweight – which puts him at high risk of hospialisation and serious illness from Covid-19.
And people are – reasonably – wondering what this means for the democratic process in the United States.
Here’s what we know about what happens when a presidential candidate dies or is incapacitated.
What happens if a candidate withdraw or dies during an election campaign?
Oddly enough, not a lot. Not straight away, anyway.
If a candidate withdraws or dies, their name would normally remains on the ballot paper, and people can continue to vote for them.
As such, it’s entirely possible for a dead or withdrawn candidate to win.
Yep. While in all likelihood the Republican Party would seek to put a new candidate on the ballot, it’s unlikely they would have time to do so before November 3.
And let’s not forget, millions of Americans have already voted, through early voting in some states and postal ballots.
But…what if he wins?
Then it gets complicated.
Presidential elections are won and lost according to the “electoral college” system.
Each state has a certain number of electoral college votes, distributed (more or less) according to the size of the state.
The votes cast on election day is really just an instruction to each state’s ‘electors’ to vote for the winning candidate in the ‘college’.
And if the person they’re supposed to vote for is no longer available, it’s not always clear what happens next.
In most states, they’re bound by law to vote for the dead candidate.
But in reality, they’d probably end up voting for the replacement put forward by the Republican Party.
And while that candidate doesn’t have to be Vice President Mike Pence, it would be extraordinary for them to pick anybody else.
The big problem would be if the Republican Party couldn’t agree on a replacement candidate.
And there’s genuinely no way to know at this point what would happen in that situation. It would be a genuine, full on crisis.
Who runs the country if the sitting President is incapacitated?
Under Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution’s 25th Amendment, adopted in 1967 following the 1963 assassination of President John Kennedy, Trump could declare in writing his inability to discharge his duties.
Vice President Mike Pence would become acting president, although Trump would remain in office.
The president would regain his powers by declaring in writing that he is again ready to discharge them.
The 25th Amendment’s Section 4 also offers a path to stripping a president of power if, for instance, his Cabinet believes he has become incapacitated, but this has never been invoked.