Who would replace Clinton if she’s too sick to run?
Despite Hillary Clinton’s doctor giving her a clean bill of health today, many people are still wondering who would replace her if she were to become ill again and drop out of the race. Many Bernie Sanders supporters are hoping an ill Hillary Clinton might allow Sanders to run after all, but the actual procedure is much more complicated.
The Democratic Party is separate from the state and the government, and thus its rules are internal and set through bylaws. These bylaws can be changed at any time and courts would likely be extremely hesitant to enforce the internal bylaws or traditions of a private entity. So to figure out what would happen if a candidate were to withdrawal before the election, we can consult the Democratic National Committee’s internal bylaw document.
According to section VIII, paragraph G of the bylaw document for the 2016 Call for the Democratic National Convention, basically the decision for a replacement is up to the Democratic Party leadership. Specifically, the bylaw states that there would be a consultation between the chairperson of the DNC (currently Donna Brazile), the Democratic leadership in Congress (Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid), and the Democratic Governors Association (led by Dan Malloy of Connecticut). This group would then report back to the DNC, who is authorized to fill the vacancy in any way.
What this means in practical terms is that there is no set procedure for who would replace a candidate for the Democrats, and the list of people above would come up with either a new procedure or would simply pick a candidate of their choosing.
Given that Bernie Sanders sits as an independent and only joined the Democrats to run for President, it’s unlikely the committee would choose him as a replacement simply because he finished second in the primary. Voters may expect that this might happen, but in reality they could choose anyone within the party that they wanted.
A thornier issue that might arise if Hillary Clinton had to drop out, would be related to ballot access for her replacement. Since states control ballot access and often have vastly different deadlines and rules, the Democrats could very well get stuck being unable to change the name that shows up on the ballot when people actually go to vote.
While courts in most states would generally be willing to overrule such deadlines in the name of the national interest and ensuring that ballots were accurate, if a candidate were to withdrawal in late October or early November there may simply be logistical problems which would make changing ballots impossible.
Since the President is not directly elected, as when you vote you are actually voting for a state elector for the electoral college, there is some leeway here. In many states, the electoral college votes could simply be transferred to the replacement Democratic candidate even if the wrong name was on the ballot. In other states, however, the laws for how electoral college votes are counted are much stricter, which could prevent votes in those states from going to the Democratic candidate.
If such a scenario where Hillary Clinton were to drop out of the race at the last minute due to sickness occurred, one thing that can be guaranteed is that the results of this election would become even more contested in the courts than the controversial 2000 election.