President-elect of the United States

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President-elect of the United States is the title used for an incoming president of the United States in the period between the general election on Election Day in November and noon Eastern Standard Time on Inauguration Day, January 20, during which the president-elect is not in office yet. Since the election for U.S. president is an indirect election, the title is used for the apparent winner[1] and is finalized when votes of the Electoral College, cast in December, are counted by a joint session of Congress in early January. If a sitting president has won re-election, the incumbent is not referred to as a president-elect because he or she is already in office and is not waiting to become president. If a new president is scheduled to enter, then the current-standing one is said to hold the office on a lame-duck basis.[2]

Constitutional criteria[edit]

Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, along with the Twelfth and Twentieth Amendments govern the election of the U.S. President. The procedure is also regulated by federal and state laws. Under federal Law, the presidential electors (the members of the Electoral College) must be "appointed, in each state, on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November, in every fourth year". Thus, all states appoint their electors on the same date, in November, once every four years. However, the manner of appointment of the electors is determined by the law of each State.

Currently, in every state, an election by the people is the method employed for the choice of the members of the Electoral College; however, any State remains free to change its manner of appointing its slate of members of the Electoral College, so that the law of a state could, for instance, prescribe election by the state legislature, or even choice by the state's governor, as the manner of appointment of the electors representing the state. In spite of that theoretical possibility, a popular election in each state is the established method of selection of the members of the Electoral College, and given that all the statewide elections happen on the same date, the simultaneous elections resemble a national general election.

On the Monday after the second Wednesday in December, the electors of each state meet in their respective state capitals (and the electors of the District of Columbia meet in the federal capital) and in those meetings the electors cast their votes for President and Vice-President of the United States.

At the conclusion of their meetings, the electors of each state and of the District of Columbia then execute a "certificate of vote" (in several original copies), declaring the vote count in each meeting. To each certificate of vote, a certificate of ascertainment is annexed. Each state's (and the District of Columbia's) certificate of ascertainment is the official document (usually signed by the governor of the state and/or by the state's secretary of state) that declares the names of the electors, certifying their appointment as members of the Electoral College. Given that in all States the electors are currently chosen by popular election, the certificate of ascertainment also declares the results of the popular vote that decided the appointment of the electors. The electors in each state and of the District of Columbia then send the certificates of vote, with the enclosed certificates of ascertainment, to the President of the Senate of the United States.

The electoral votes are counted in a joint session of Congress in early January (on January 6 as required by 3 U.S. Code, Chapter 1 or an alternative date set by statute) and if the ballots are accepted without objections, the candidate winning at least 270 electoral votes (a majority of the total number of votes) is announced the President-elect by the incumbent Vice President, in his or her capacity as President of the Senate.

Electoral College role[edit]

No constitutional provision or federal law requires electors to vote according to the results of their states' popular vote, though some states bind their electors to their pledges by state law. Historically, there have been only a few instances of electors not casting their ballots for the candidates to whom they were pledged, and such instances have never resulted in changing the final outcome of a presidential election. Popular vote does not declare the Presidency, Electoral College vote does. Even if popular vote goes to one candidate, another may win the electoral vote and Presidency, as has happened in 1876, 1888 and 2000.[3]

Congressional reports[edit]

Two congressional reports found that the president-elect is the eventual winner of the majority of electoral ballots cast in December. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) of the Library of Congress, in its 2004 report "Presidential and Vice Presidential Succession: Overview and Current Legislation,"[4] discussed the question of when candidates who have received a majority of electoral votes become president-elect. The report notes that the constitutional status of the president-elect is disputed:

Some commentators doubt whether an official president- and vice president-elect exist prior to the electoral votes being counted and announced by Congress on January 6, maintaining that this is a problematic contingency lacking clear constitutional or statutory direction. Others assert that once a majority of electoral votes has been cast for one ticket, then the recipients of these votes become the president- and vice president-elect, notwithstanding the fact that the electoral votes are not counted and certified until the following January 6.

The CRS report quotes the 1933 U.S. House committee report accompanying the Twentieth Amendment as endorsing the latter view:

It will be noted that the committee uses the term "president elect" in its generally accepted sense, as meaning the person who has received the majority of electoral votes, or the person who has been chosen by the House of Representatives in the event that the election is thrown into the House. It is immaterial whether or not the votes have been counted, for the person becomes the president-elect as soon as the votes are cast.[5]

Both reports make clear that becoming president-elect is contingent upon winning the majority of electoral votes.

President-elect succession[edit]

Scholars have noted that the national committees of the Democratic and Republican parties have adopted rules for selecting replacement candidates in the event of a nominee's death, either before or after the general election. If the apparent winner of the general election dies before the Electoral College votes in December the electors probably would endorse whatever new nominee their national party selects as a replacement (although they may be prevented from doing so in many states, because those states have laws requiring electors to vote for the person to which they are pledged, and some states invalidate votes that were cast for anyone else). If the apparent winner dies between the College's December vote and its counting in Congress in January, the Twelfth Amendment stipulates that all electoral ballots cast shall be counted, presumably even those for a dead candidate. The U.S. House committee reporting on the proposed Twentieth Amendment said the "Congress would have 'no discretion' [and] 'would declare that the deceased candidate had received a majority of the votes.'"[6]

In cases where a president has not been chosen by January 20 or the president-elect "fails to qualify," the vice president-elect becomes acting president on January 20 until there is a qualified president. If the president-elect dies before noon January 20, the Twentieth Amendment states the vice president-elect becomes president. In cases where there is no president-elect or vice president-elect, the amendment also gives the Congress the authority to declare an acting president until such time as there is a president or vice president. At this point the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 would apply, with the office of the Presidency going to the speaker of the House of Representatives, followed by the president pro tempore of the Senate and various Cabinet officers.

The closest instance of a vice president-elect becoming president came just 23 days after the ratification of the Twentieth Amendment. On February 15, 1933, Giuseppe Zangara fired a gun at President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt, but missed, instead hitting Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak. If the assassination attempt on Roosevelt had been successful then, pursuant to Section 3 of the amendment, Vice President-elect John Nance Garner would have been sworn in as president on Inauguration Day (March 4, 1933).

Presidential transitions[edit]

Recent presidents-elect have assembled presidential transition teams to prepare for a smooth transfer of power following the inauguration. Outgoing presidents have cooperated with the president-elect on important policy matters during the last two months of the president's term to ensure a smooth transition and continuity of operations that have significant national interests. Before the ratification of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933, which moved the start of the presidential term to January, the president-elect did not assume office until March, four months after the popular election.

The Presidential Transition Act of 1963[1] authorizes the Administrator of the General Services Administration to certify, even before the December vote of the Electoral College, the apparent winner of the November general election as the president-elect for the purposes of receiving federal transition funding, office space and communications services prior to the beginning of the new administration on January 20.[7]

The president-elect assumes office as the next president of the United States upon the expiration of the term of the previous officeholder at noon on January 20. This procedure has been the subject of many misinterpretations and urban legends, such as the myth of David Rice Atchison's one-day-long presidency, which is predicated upon false assumptions and a logical flaw. Taking the formal oath of office does not affect the automatic accession to and occupation of the office of the presidency, which, in the case of the president, proceeds, ipso facto, from the expiration of the predecessor's term and the immediate start of the new four-year term. The oath of office is necessary so that the president can "enter upon the execution" of his office, but he is already president from the start of his term.[citation needed]

The president-elect and vice president-elect receive mandatory protection from the United States Secret Service, but since the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, they have received such protection during the election campaign.

List of U.S. Presidents-elect[edit]

Party shadings
None Federalist Democratic-Republican
Democratic Whig Republican
Order Name From To
1   George Washington January 10, 1789 April 30, 1789
2   John Adams 1796 March 4, 1797
3   Thomas Jefferson February 17, 1801[8] March 4, 1801
4   James Madison 1808 March 4, 1809
5   James Monroe 1816 March 4, 1817
6   John Quincy Adams February 9, 1825[8] March 4, 1825
7   Andrew Jackson December 3, 1828 March 4, 1829
8   Martin Van Buren December 7, 1836 March 4, 1837
9   William Henry Harrison December 2, 1840 March 4, 1841
10   James K. Polk December 4, 1844 March 4, 1845
11   Zachary Taylor November 7, 1848 March 4, 1849[9]
12   Franklin Pierce November 2, 1852 March 4, 1853
13   James Buchanan November 4, 1856 March 4, 1857
14   Abraham Lincoln November 6, 1860 March 4, 1861
15   Ulysses S. Grant November 3, 1868 March 4, 1869
16   Rutherford B. Hayes March 2, 1877[10] March 4, 1877[11]
17   James A. Garfield November 2, 1880 March 4, 1881
18   Grover Cleveland November 4, 1884 March 4, 1885
19   Benjamin Harrison November 6, 1888 March 4, 1889
20   Grover Cleveland November 8, 1892 March 4, 1893
21   William McKinley November 3, 1896 March 4, 1897
22   William Taft November 3, 1908 March 4, 1909
23   Woodrow Wilson November 5, 1912 March 4, 1913
24   Warren Harding November 2, 1920 March 4, 1921
25   Herbert Hoover November 6, 1928 March 4, 1929
26   Franklin D. Roosevelt November 8, 1932 March 4, 1933
27   Dwight D. Eisenhower November 4, 1952 January 20, 1953
28   John F. Kennedy November 9, 1960[12] January 20, 1961
29   Richard Nixon November 5, 1968 January 20, 1969
30   Jimmy Carter November 2, 1976 January 20, 1977
31   Ronald Reagan November 4, 1980 January 20, 1981
32   George H. W. Bush November 8, 1988 January 20, 1989
33   Bill Clinton November 3, 1992 January 20, 1993
34   George W. Bush December 13, 2000[13] January 20, 2001
35   Barack Obama
November 4, 2008 January 20, 2009
36 TBD November 8, 2016 January 20, 2017

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Presidential Transition Act of 1963 (Public Law 88-277)". General Services Administration. Retrieved 2016-05-17. 
  2. ^ "Lame Duck Definition". Retrieved 2009-05-20. 
  3. ^ "U.S. National Archives and Records Administration FAQ". Retrieved 2008-11-23. The Supreme Court has held that the Constitution does not require that electors be completely free to act as they choose and therefore, political parties may extract pledges from electors to vote for the parties' nominees. 
  4. ^ Thomas H. Neale. "Presidential and Vice Presidential Succession: Overview and Current Legislation" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. Retrieved 21 April 2012. 
  5. ^ U.S. Congress, House, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, report to accompany S.J. Res. 14, 72nd Cong., 1st sess., Rept. 345 (Washington, GPO:1932), p. 6.
  6. ^ Longley, Lawrence D.; Neal R. Peirce (1999). The Electoral College Primer 2000. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-08036-0. 
  7. ^ In November 2000, the GSA administrator did not name a president-elect until the legal disputes over vote counting in Florida were resolved. Schrader, Esther (2000-11-28). "GSA Denies Bush Transition Aid, Citing Legal Battle". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-11-16. It started early Monday, when the Bush team asked for access to the taxpayer-funded transition offices that are to be used by the president-elect. The General Services Administration refused, explaining it was best to wait until the legal challenges in Florida had run their course. 
  8. ^ a b Date of election by House of Representatives
  9. ^ Taylor was sworn in on March 5.
  10. ^ Date the contested election was certified by Congress
  11. ^ Hayes took his inauguration oath privately on March 3 and publicly on March 5.
  12. ^ Date of election was November 8, 1960. Due to closeness of the election, Richard Nixon did not concede until the afternoon of November 9.
  13. ^ This was the date Al Gore conceded following the U.S. Supreme Court's halting of recount efforts in Florida (See: Ian Christopher McCaleb (December 13, 2000). "Bush, now president-elect, signals will to bridge partisan gaps". Retrieved 2009-02-10. ).

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