After President Joe Biden’s shaky performance in the debate with former President Donald Trump on Thursday night, some Democrats have openly questioned whether he should be replaced as their candidate for the 2024 election. There is a process for doing so, but it would be complicated.

To understand how this would work, Reuters spoke to Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank, a member of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the author of the book “Primary Politics” about the presidential nomination process.

Question: What options do Democrats have?

Answer: The Democratic Party has no real Plan B for Biden as its presidential candidate. He has virtually no opposition in the race for the party’s presidential nomination this year. He won’t be officially nominated until later this summer, so there’s still time to make a change and several possibilities for making it happen: Biden could decide to step aside himself before being nominated; he could be challenged by others who would try to win the delegates he’s accumulated; or he could withdraw after the Democratic convention in Chicago in August, leaving the Democratic National Committee to elect someone to run against Trump in his place.

Question: And now, what happens?

A: Right now, the process is largely up to Biden. He would either have to agree to step down or face a challenger at this late stage in the process who would try to force him to do so. So far, Biden has given no indication that he wants to step down, and no opponent has challenged him directly. In fact, some of his top potential surrogates — Vice President Kamala Harris and California Governor Gavin Newsom — spoke passionately in his defense after the debate, acting as his spokespeople, highlighting their support but also contrasting his smooth performance with his hesitation on the debate stage in Atlanta.

Question: What happens if Biden steps down?

Answer: Biden has spent the past few months accumulating nearly 4,000 Democratic delegates by winning primary elections in U.S. states and territories. These delegates would normally vote for him, but the rules don’t require them to do so; delegates are allowed to vote their conscience, meaning they could direct their vote to someone else. If Biden “frees up” his delegates by stepping aside, there could be a competition among other Democratic candidates to become the nominee.

Question: Who would replace Biden?

A: Several candidates could enter the race, but there is no obvious number one. Vice President Harris would likely be at the top of the list, but she has faced her own set of problems after a rocky start to office and low approval ratings. The U.S. Constitution mandates that the vice president becomes president if the president dies or becomes incapacitated, but it does not interfere with the intraparty process for choosing a nominee. The governors of California, Michigan, Kentucky and Illinois have also been mentioned as possible replacements, but they are Biden supporters and are working to help him get elected now.

Question: How would a nominee be chosen?

Answer: There would likely be some sort of competition among the Democratic heavyweights seeking the office. Candidates would have to get signatures from 600 convention delegates to be nominated. There are expected to be about 4,672 delegates in 2024, including 3,933 pledged delegates and 739 automatic or superdelegates, according to Ballotpedia. If no one wins a majority of delegates, then there would be a “negotiated convention” in which delegates would act as free agents and negotiate with party leadership to arrive at a nominee. Rules would be established, and there would be roll-call votes on the names put forward for nomination. It could take several rounds of voting for someone to win a majority and become the nominee. The last negotiated convention for Democrats, when they failed to nominate a candidate on the first ballot, was in 1952.

Question: What happens if Biden steps aside after the convention?

Answer: If Biden steps down after the August convention, the 435 members of the Democratic National Committee would choose a new nominee. The members would meet in a special session to select a nominee.

Question: Who are these 435 DNC members?

Answer: They are evenly split between men and women, and include representatives from various interest groups, including labor leaders, LGBTQ representatives, and racial minorities. Of the total, 75 are appointed by the DNC chair, while the rest are elected from their respective states.

Question: Who could appoint a replacement in this case?

Answer: To nominate a candidate to replace Biden on the ballot, that person would have to have the support of a minimum number of DNC members — perhaps around 60, though the exact number would be determined by the DNC rules committee, which would set the rules for the proceedings before they begin. There would likely be nominating and seconding speeches. Several candidates could be nominated before the list is narrowed.

Question: How would these votes be counted?

Answer: The DNC would likely hold its meeting in Washington, D.C., and the votes would be counted there. Ballots would be coded, signed, and collected by hand. If a vote were to occur very close to Election Day on November 5, when it would not be possible to meet in person, it would likely be virtual.


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