Names on Ballots – Micro-Explainer

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This is another one of those focused, factual-question posts. As always, not trying to signal a larger point here. Just trying to address a specific question for the community which a number of TPM readers have asked me via email. Here goes.

There are suggestions out there, in some cases verging on urban legends, that no one is taking into account the fact that in many states the deadlines have already passed for switching the candidate names on the presidential ballots. Heritage has put out that they’ve got a team of lawyers ready to hit the courts. I’ve seen claims the the deadlines have passed in key swing states.

While I’m no election law expert and certainly no expert of individual state laws, I feel highly confident that none of this is accurate.

Here’s why.

The big part of the reason is this: Ballot access works differently with political parties than it does for one-off candidacies. Joe Biden isn’t actually on any ballots now. Until he’s nominated there’s nothing to change. The way state laws work is that they have a space reserved for the nominee of the Democratic Party. Joe Biden isn’t the nominee yet. Yes, that’s treated as a technicality. But it’s the critical legal technicality. As far as I know, until the convention, there’s really no issue. If he were nominated and then dropped out, then the situation gets more complicated. It’s not locked in place. But I think then GOP lawyers could at least gum things up in some states, enough that it would potentially be a real issue. Before he’s formally nominated I don’t think this is a real thing.

I read a couple articles where this came up. And versions of this question were put to election law experts who I respect and the answer was pretty much what I’ve shared above. Not just “it’s manageable,” but more that that is just not how it works at all. Once a candidate is formally nominated it’s different. In some states you might have a hook to get into court. Before nomination, again, just not how it works.

If I hear otherwise, I will certainly update you. But to the best of my knowledge, pre-convention this is not a claim worth including in your thinking about this.

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