YOUR PARANOID QUESTIONS

Your Most Paranoid Pandemic Election Questions, Answered

If the 2020 election is canceled, a Vermont senator (no, not that one) could become president

Ben Jacobs
GEN
Published in
6 min readApr 3, 2020

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A voter casts his ballot during early voting at the King County Elections processing center on March 9, 2020 in Renton, WA.
A voter casts his ballot during early voting in Washington state. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

TThe coronavirus pandemic has disrupted life across the United States, forcing more than 297 million people into obeying stay-at-home orders. As the death toll mounts and the disruptions to the economy become ever clearer, it’s worth considering how the virus could affect the most fundamental aspect of our society: our democracy. The contested, confused, last-minute postponement of the Democratic primary in Ohio in March raised real concerns about what happens if the entire nation has to go to the polls amid the coronavirus outbreak. Saturday’s contests in Alaska and Wyoming, followed by Tuesday’s controversial election in Wisconsin, will represent the first time voters will indicate their preferences since the pandemic has forced lockdowns across much of the country. It will be the first small test of how our election process operates in the midst of an unprecedented national crisis.

Can the presidential election be canceled?

No, it can’t. The terms of federal elected officials are set by the Constitution. Trump’s term ends on January 20, 2021. Extending it would require two-thirds of both the House and the Senate to support such an amendment and then having three-fourths of the state legislatures ratify it. That is not happening.

There is nothing the president can do to change this. As Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and an expert on continuity of government, told GEN, “The president does not have the authority under emergency conditions to cancel an election or even postpone it.”

In a hypothetical where the entire 2020 election can’t occur, the line of succession would devolve to the president pro tempore of the Senate, who is third in line. There would be no vice president to take over because there would be no president, and there would be no speaker of the House because there would be no members of the House. That body is constitutionally mandated to be up for election every two years, just as the president’s term is constitutionally…

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Ben Jacobs
GEN
Writer for

Ben Jacobs is a politics reporter based in Washington. Follow him on Twitter at @bencjacobs.