The president says Pelosi could become president through the finish of the year. That's not quite right.

You are watching: If there is no election who becomes president


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President Donald Trump waves to the audience after speaking at a project rally in Old Forge, Pa., top top Aug. 20, 2020.John Minchillo / AP
President Donald trump told followers last week that the speaker of the House might succeed him in office if the election result isn"t known by December.

"There"s a theory that, if friend don"t have it by the end of the year, stunner Nancy Pelosi would come to be president," that said.


Pelosi is in the presidential heat of succession, however Trump"s gained the time wrong and also such an end result is highly unlikely in any type of event.

Most presidential elections go so clearly that small attention is payment to just how they actually occupational (with the most recent exemption of 2000) — and also to the fact that just 538 world vote straight for president and vice president. They"re the presidential electors comprising what"s well-known as the Electoral College.

The number of electors every state gets is equal to its seats in the U.S. Home plus two for that U.S. Senators. California has the most, with 55. Seven of the many sparsely inhabited states and also the district of Columbia have three each.


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Before the election, each state politics party choose a slate of world to act together presidential electors if that is candidate wins. So as soon as voters walk to the polls, they"re in reality choosing between different slates that electors. Some states also print their names ~ above the ballot in addition to the candidates.


In 48 states and Washington, D.C., the popular vote identify which slate that electors is chosen, winner take it all. In Maine and Nebraska, some electors are preferred in individual congressional districts, some by the statewide vote. A complete of 33 states require electors to vote for the winner that the renowned vote, and also the U.S. Can be fried Court in July upheld state legislations that prohibit what are known as "faithless electors," that refuse to poll for the well-known vote winner at the Electoral College.

The electors fulfill in December to actors their votes, which are tabulated before a share session of conference on Jan. 6, the day of yes, really presidential vote count.

The Constitution offers Congress authority to set the date for the basic election, i beg your pardon is the an initial Tuesday after the first Monday in November — Nov. 3 this year. Congress has additionally determined that the Electoral college meets the an initial Monday after ~ the 2nd Wednesday in December. That will be Dec. 14 this year — 41 work after the basic election.

Federal law also provides the if a state conclusively choose its slate of electors increase to 6 days before the Electoral university meets, congress must think about those votes valid on the counting job in January. This is known as the "safe harbor" deadline. The supreme Court stated Florida"s desire to fulfill it was a an essential reason the court stopped the vote counting there in 2000, make George W. Bush the winner.


If a state desire to take benefit of the provision, it has actually only 35 job after the election to decide who won.


In most recent elections, the results were clear within several hrs after the polls closed. Yet it"s bound come be different this time, with estimates that over half of the votes will be cast by mail. In countless states, envelopes include those ballots won"t even be opened until the polls close. And before they"re counted, they need to be confirm to verify the they were validly cast.

"If girlfriend can"t start the process early, then you space making it essentially certain, through the variety of ballots claims are going to have, that they"re not going to have the outcomes for a week or so," said Rick Pildes, an choice law expert at new York University legislation school. "That difficulty drives me crazy."


State laws provide a period after the election for officially certifying the outcome, through a procedure known as the poll canvass. It"s during that time the recounts have the right to be triggered by very close outcomes, and also candidates can paper their legal obstacles to voting and counting procedures.


But even if that process takes several weeks, said Ned Foley, that directs the election regulation program at Ohio State University"s Moritz university of Law, "that wouldn"t constitute a delay, since election results aren"t official until a month ~ the election."

The new Congress is sworn in Jan. 3 and also meets in a joint session three days later on to count the votes. If a state thrived in conference the safe harbor deadline, that is votes must be counted. Yet even if the deadline to be missed, Congress deserve to still counting a state"s electoral votes. If any kind of member of conference objects to counting any type of given vote, both the House and also Senate vote on what come do.

But what if there"s no clear winner in the Electoral university vote?

The Constitution provides the answer: The home chooses the president, with each state, not each member, spreading a solitary vote. The Senate chooses the angry president.


Only one president take it office that method under the current Electoral College system — man Quincy Adams in 1825. In 1877, Congress set up a unique commission to resolve disputes over ballots in three states, which brought about a win for Rutherford B. Hayes. It to be that problem that led to the establishment of the for sure harbor provision.

The concern of no clean winner in the well-known vote would certainly be one because that each separation, personal, instance state in determining its slate that electors.

There can be no clear winner in the Electoral College poll if, together in the Adams election, no candidate gained a majority or if the vote is really close and some electoral votes are disputed.

Under the Constitution, the four-year terms for president and also vice president finish on Jan. 20. If conference is can not to select the winners by then, the Presidential sequence Act kicks in. Very first in heat to serve as exhilaration president is the home speaker, currently Nancy Pelosi, adhered to by the president pro tempore the the Senate, who is now Charles Grassley of Iowa, complied with by members of the Cabinet.


But they might be reluctant to accept the role, due to the fact that they would certainly be forced to resign from congress in bespeak to take it the position and could serve just until congress finally determined who the president will certainly be.

So yes sir no way Trump"s scenario could unfold by the finish of December, and Pelosi couldn"t come to be acting president until Jan. 20, an extremely unlikely outcome.

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Pete Williams is one NBC News correspondent who covers the justice Department and also the supreme Court, based in Washington.