If COVID-19 cancels the election this November – who is in charge? You might be surprised by the answer.

If COVID-19 cancels the election this November – who is in charge? You might be surprised by the answer.

March 24, 20202 min read

With states of emergency being declared, 20 percent of Americans home-bound and two of the country’s largest states in virtual lock-down – there’s some wondering just how and if the presidential election this November is even possible?

The best-case scenario is that the pandemic subsides and all candidates proceed with caution and ideally maximize digital and distance options for what might be the new normal of campaigning. Gone might be the rallies, hand shaking and requisite baby-kissing – but the election could go on.

Here’s what Michigan State University’s expert on the constitutional law and the presidency has to say about the idea of a delayed decision day in America.

“Some people have begun speculating about the possibility of the COVID-19 threat causing a significant delay in the presidential election this fall,” says Brian Kalt, professor of law at Michigan State University. “There are a couple of important legal points to remember about this. First, the day for federal elections and for the meeting of the Electoral College is set by law so only Congress has the authority to reset it, not the President or anyone else.”


And if there is no election this November, Kalt also wants people to know, it does not mean an extension of Trump’s presidency.


“Second, regardless of when the election is held, the 20th Amendment specifies that the President’s term (as well as the Vice President’s) ends at noon on January 20. If there is no election to replace the President, the line of succession statute kicks in.

With no President-Elect or Vice President-Elect to qualify, the Speaker of the House would become Acting President until an election could be held. Of course, if there is no presidential election there would presumably be no congressional elections either. In that case, there would be no House: the 20th Amendment ends congressional terms on January 3.

With no House—and thus no Speaker—the next in line would be the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. Since only about a third of senators see their terms expire in each cycle, the Senate is a continuing body. The remaining senators would have a quorum and would select a new President Pro Tempore.”


Sounds confusing and potentially chaotic for a country already on edge.


And if you are a reporter covering politics and this potential situation, then let our experts help with your questions and ensure your coverage is accurate.


Brian Kalt is a Professor of Law and a Harold Norris Faculty Scholar at Michigan State University. He is an expert in constitutional law of the presidency, and he’s available to speak with media regarding how the Constitution and laws play a role in elections. Simply click on his icon to arrange an interview.

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  • Brian Kalt
    Brian Kalt Professor of Law & Harold Norris Faculty Scholar

    Expert in constitutional law of the presidency, presidential pardons, impeachment, succession and the 25th Amendment.

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