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What happens if a candidate passes away? Experts address election questions

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(WQOW)- In light of President Trump testing positive for COVID-19, the cross-partisan National Task Force on Election Crises held a briefing Monday to discuss the implications of that diagnosis for the upcoming November election.

Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist on the task force, said with COVID cases on the rise in various parts of the country, there is a possibility for more candidates to become infected across political parties, and believes campaigns need to seriously consider their safety.

"I think we'll have by far the most activity we've seen since the beginning of the pandemic over the course of the next four weeks," said Osterholm. "While politicians, by nature, are there to press the flesh and get close to people as part of the campaign, as an infectious disease epidemiologist, I'd tell you that is the worst thing that can possibly happen."

Members of the task force also addressed what would happen if a candidate passes away between now and election day. While the answer varies by state, and how deep into the election process we are, experts said there are protocols in place to handle those scenarios, including for the presidential election.

"When you cast a vote for a particular presidential candidate, so, you press Joe Biden [or] you press Donald Trump, under state law, it doesn't actually count as a vote for that candidate," said Michael Morley, Assistant Professor of Law at Florida State University.

Morley said instead, your vote counts as a vote for a slate of presidential electors. These electors make up the Electoral College and are ultimately responsible for selecting the president.

This means a vote for Donald Trump is a vote for the Republican electors, and a vote for Joe Biden is a vote for Democratic electors, who will go on to cast their votes for president and vice president on December 14.

Taskforce members said because of this, the millions of votes already cast during early voting would likely still be valid if a candidate passes away. Experts said both parties have a process for replacing a candidate.

They added that postponing the election would be unlikely, even in the event of a candidate's death.

"You have a series of statutory and constitutional deadlines that you start to brush up against if you talk about delaying an election," said Morley. "Trying to delay or hold a new popular vote at some later date is extremely impractical in general, and would be unnecessary specifically in the context of a deceased candidate."

By law, only Congress can change the date of the general election, and a president's term cannot extend past noon on January 20 for any reason.

Jess Langlois

Jess Langlois is the weekend meteorologist and weekday multi-media journalist for News 18. She joined us in July of 2019.

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