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Pelosi Would Become President If Election Results Are Not Certified, Says Law Professor

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- As the Election Day vote count grinds on and the Trump campaign launches a flurry of legal challenges over the legitimacy of ballots, a question emerges: what happens if a winner is not determined by the new year?

According to Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Adler, if the results of the election are not certified by the deadline, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would become President until a winner is certified.

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Adler spoke to CBSN about what could happen if the election results are put on hold until these lawsuits inch their way through the courts.

"There is a drop-dead date, if the results of the election are not certified in time for a new president to be inaugurated, we then actually go to the Presidential Succession Act," Adler said. "So ultimately it would mean if you couldn't certify the results of the election and the Speaker of the House would become president."

"But that would only occur if you couldn't certify the results in January," Adler added.

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The United States Presidential Succession Act states that in the case of a vacancy in both the presidency and the vice-presidency, the Speaker of the House shall "act as President" for the duration of the vacancy.

The chief election official in each state must certify election results, according to, and in most states that is the secretary of state.

An unprecedented number of mail-in ballots were cast in the 2020 Election, largely because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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"It certainly is unsettling to have to go multiple days and people want to resolve — this sort of conflict will be resolved relatively quickly," said Adler. " If the U.S. Supreme Court does decide it has to hear about one of these cases, they will resolve it relatively quickly."

But Adler believes the Supreme Court would resolve it in November long before the certification deadlines and having to certify someone else as president.

The president-elect is scheduled to be sworn-in on Jan. 20, 2021.

In 2000, the presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore came down to a decision in the U.S. Supreme Court on December 12 that settled a recount dispute in Florida. Most legal experts say this year's election will likely not be decided by the high court.

"You can't just bring a challenge to say 'I think I won' without explaining what the legal reason is, why certain ballots should or should not count," University of Kentucky Rosenberg College of Law professor Joshua Douglas told Bloomberg Law.

Douglas said a Trump suit would need to raise specific legal objections and say "there's a set of ballots that either should or should not be counted or are otherwise invalid," Bloomberg reported.

The Supreme Court refused to hear a lawsuit by Republicans challenging targeted Pennsylvania mail-in ballots which arrived after Election Day, but left open the possibility of hearing it after the vote.


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