If everybody was to vote on their ballot for a United States president who had already served two terms and won the election what would happen?

  • If there was such absurdly overwhelming support for some person (or someone had such overwhelming ability to coerce or manipulate voters), there's little stopping people from amending the constitution to let that person be president. Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 3:31
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    The President is not voted in through popular vote. In the past twenty years, we've had at least two candidates who were elected despite coming in second on the popular vote. Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 16:14

3 Answers 3


There are two possible scenarios: The Vice-Presidential President and a mass Write In.

In the first, if the elected President is removed from office after 2 years in office, than the Vice-President (and the entire eligible line of succession for that matter) would be eligible to run for two terms, giving the Former Veep the ability to serve for a total of 10 years. If the Veep ascends to President prior to the 2 year mark, it counts as his first term for 25th Amendment Purposes and he can only run for one more election.

In the second scenario, if there is a mass write in campaign of a former two term President that wins, the votes will not be counted as the candidate is not eligible under the terms of the 22nd Amendment. Under Article II of the Constitution, no person who is ineligible from office may ever ascend to the office of President. In terms of the 25th Amendment, the Presidential Line of succession currently is starts with the Vice-President, then the Speaker of the House, then the President pro tempore of the Senate, followed by the Cabinet by order of Creation of office.

Only the Vice-President is exclusively barred from being a non-Native Borne U.S. citizen. However, the rest of the offices in the succession line are not barred in such a manner, so there could arise a case in which the line has a member who is not a native born citizen (Currently Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao is a naturalized citizen and not eligible to become President. Were she eligible, she would be 14th in line.). As such, she is omitted per the Presidential Succession Act and the line below her is elevated. She is also disqualified from being a Designated Survivor, as they role entails that they must be legally authorized to be President should the worst happen.

  • So if the president of 2 terms then become vise president after and then for some reason the president was removed then the vise president can serve a 3rd term as president?
    – Muze
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 22:53
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    @Muze to be vice president, you have to be eligible to be president. So once you've been president for two terms, you can't be vice president either. If a term-limited former president were speaker of the house or held another office in the line of succession, the same thing would happen as does with naturalized citizens, which is to say the person would be omitted from the line of succession.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 23:03

This would have to be settled in the courts. Ultimately the person could not serve, because of the 22nd amendment ("No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of President more than once"). "Be elected" does not mean "stand for office" (there is a 2-term limit on serving, not running).

Each state specifies how the president will be selected therein (via the state's electors), so it would require a 50-state search of laws to see whether there are limitations on standing for office if a candidate is legally barred from holding the office, if they gained the required number of votes. Washington state does not impose restrictions on candidates for any office – one down, 49 to go.

It is probable that in each state, someone would file suit to block the inclusion of said candidate on the ballot, although the secretary of state might preemptively decide that the candidate will not be listed (and then someone else would sue to force the name to be included on the ballot). Courts could differ in their decisions, based on the facts of state electoral laws and constitutions, not to mention judicial ideology (i.e. how inclined the court is to allow symbolic acts). After the election, the electors would also have to decide whether to symbolically cast a vote for a guaranteed non-president. These votes are tallied by Congress, under the 12th Amendment, and assuming the person gets a majority of the votes, that person "shall be the President". The 22nd Amendment exception, however, is later (supersedes the 12th). Art. II Sect. 1, Cl. 6 of the constitution says

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President

and the 25th Amendment says

In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President

If states attempted to impose limits on candidates for federal office, they could face some opposition from SCOTUS. U.S. Term Limits Inc. v. Thornton would be potentially applicable. In this case, Arkansas had a law which prohibited putting on the ballot any candidate who had served 3 terms. The court found that that law violated the US constitution. The court held that "the Constitution prohibits States from imposing congressional qualifications additional to those specifically enumerated in its text" – however, this particular (dis)qualification is in the constitution, thus state laws preventing constitutionally-blocked candidate from appearing on the ballot could well pass SCOTUS scrutiny.

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    If you're saying a person could theoretically win the popular vote multiple times, the easiest way is perhaps to run three times, win the popular vote three times, and have an opponent elected by the Electoral College at least one of those times. Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 16:16

There is a way of serving an unlimited and almost continuous amount of time as President, with the exception of only as few as a handful of days every four years.

The Constitution sets a limit on who can be elected President, and most of these constraints also apply to the Vice-President, except for one (Amdt. 22, S. 1) :

No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of President more than once.

This clause specifically only applies to the election of the President, not of the Vice-President. Therefore, there is no term limit for being elected Vice-President, even for someone who would have served two or more full prior presidential terms.

So, Obama (an example, the last president to have served two full terms) could be VP candidate with an unknown as President, say Mr. Clark. Clark can resign Jan. 24th, leaving Obama to a new full term as President (minus the three days between the inauguration and the resignation). They could repeat the process every four years : Obama becomes Vice-President-Elect and Lame-Duck-President for a few weeks (assuming they win the election of course), then Vice-President for a few days, then President again.

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    No, as phoog already pointed out in a comment to another answer, this does not work. The 12th amendment prevents this “no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice President of the United States.” Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 14:17
  • @suchiuomizu sure, but the 22nd amendment was passed after the 12th, so any conflict between the two ends up in the 22nd's advantage. And there's the principle of "the specific overrides the general" : if the 22nd specifically says "the office of President", it's arguable that it overrides the 12th on that point. Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 14:22

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