Ned’s post on Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment walks through challenges pertaining to former president Donald Trump’s eligibility. It’s a sound legal analysis (although I’m sure there are disputes among some as to the facts, and there’s much uncertain about the politics), but I wanted to build on one point he raises: “That way, if Trump is judicially ruled ineligible—becoming constitutionally equivalent to Obama—his name can be kept off the ballots in 2024, and no voter will waste a vote by casting a ballot for a constitutionally ineligible candidate.”
The ballot access rules are a separate and major complication for presidential candidates. Consider the following hurdles.
Let’s start with the presidential primaries, formally the selection of delegates to the national nominating convention. The Democratic Party has rules requiring that candidacy including “requirements set forth by the United States Constitution.” (Rule 13.K.) The Republican Party does not (although no state may bar voting for someone who is constitutionally eligible).
For caucuses, the rules are largely left to state parties to determine candidate eligibility. For primaries, states often defer to party determinations or have no express rules as to candidate qualifications. So it’s entirely possible that an otherwise-ineligible candidate secure a majority of the delegates heading into a nominating convention.
On the other side of the nominating convention are ballot access rules for presidential candidates. Some states will exclude ineligible candidates. Others will not–for instance, I chronicle ballot access for ineligible candidates in recent history, like 27-year-old Peta Lindsay or Nicaraguan national Roger Calero, each of whom appeared on the ballot in some states in recent years. And some states only test presidential candidate eligibility for age, citizenship, and residency–nothing else. I took a look at some such challenges in the 2016 election.
Add to that the complexity of presidential electors (some of whom are statutorily required to vote for the candidate they were pledged to support or who received a plurality of the statewide popular vote, or else they vacate their office). And add to that the challenges of Congress’s power to refuse to count electoral votes, which Ned alludes to (and which no one is excited to re-engage in 2025).
All that is to say, the issues Ned identifies are important qualifiers for disqualifying a presidential candidate. But there 51 separate ballot access rules that need to be navigated to see how it would play out.
There are two important caveats. The first is that the GOP might truncate the process by cutting out a nominee from its primary process. That seems unlikely no matter the circumstances–as a matter of the complexity of how states run their primaries and as a matter of the party apparatus making changes to its internal governance ahead of 2024. The second is that Ned’s proposal certainly could expedite litigation. In the absence of a statute to enforce Section 3, I imagine some will litigate on a state-by-state basis, during the primaries and again during the general election, to exclude Trump from the ballot. A statute would certainly simplify resolution of the matter (and might alter how the party behaves–the same, for instance, as if Barack Obama attempted to seek a third term, to Ned’s analogous disqualification rule).
But litigation, it seems, is inevitable whatever happens, and it’s only a question of how messy it looks.