Timeline and Duties of a President-Elect
Now that the General Election is over, many people are wondering what happens between the time when the new president is selected and when they are sworn in on Inauguration Day.
Once all the ballots are tallied up on election day, the winning candidate becomes known as the president-elect until they officially take office as the president on January 20. While a President-Elect may be eager to take up an office in the White House already, there are many preparations that need to be made for a smooth transition from one president to the next – and technically, they haven't even been sworn in yet.
Pre-Election Day: Select Transition Teams
Although the president-elect is not official until early January, they must spend the majority of their time between Election Day and Inauguration Day appointing different positions and in general preparing for the transition of power. One of the most vital parts of this is putting together a presidential transition team to help ease the process, and this begins before the public has even chosen their future President. Candidates of major parties are prepared to launch their transition team as soon as they have won on Election Day.
Both the sitting President and the President-Elect are required to have their own transition teams to organize everything. In fact, a law enacted by Congress in early 2016 requires the sitting President to establish transition councils be June of an election year, and the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) launched a new program called Transition 2016 to help provide management and procedural advice to the leading candidates so they can form properly functioning transition teams.
During this time, the President-Elect and his staff work closely with the outgoing President and his staff to make sure everything goes according to plan.
Pre-Election Day through Inauguration Day: Receive Secret Service Protection
Originally, Secret Service protection did not include Presidential candidates, but after the assassination of United States Senator Robert Kennedy in 1968, Congress passed PL-90-331 to give protection to major candidates and their spouses in order to maintain the integrity of the democratic process.
This protection is authorized by the Secretary of Homeland Security after consultation with the Congressional Advisory Committee, which includes key members of the House and Senate. In order to be eligible, the candidates must be publicly declared, actively campaigning, part of a qualified party, and have raised a substantial amount of money on the campaign trail. These candidates are to receive Secret Service protection within 120 days of the General Election, though many receive it much sooner. While it is rare, candidates can decline the protection.
Our current major candidates and their spouses have already been receiving such protection for months, but after Election Day, the President-Elect will more vigilant protection from the Secret Service.
On the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, voters all across the country cast their votes for the offices of the President and Vice President of the United States, as well as a number of other offices on a national and local level. But many people are unaware of the fact that their vote actually selects groups of Electors in the Electoral College, and that those Electors will be the ones to officially select the President and Vice President.
The process can be long and drawn out, and it comes from a discrepancy between the Founding Fathers. While some of the Founding Fathers wanted the President to be elected by the popular vote of the country, others wanted Congress to choose their leader. The compromise that the Fathers chose became what we now know as the Electoral College, in which each state has a specific number of Electors that are equal to its number of Congressional representatives, plus three Electors for the District of Columbia. When we cast our ballots in November, our popular vote determines which candidate wins all the state's Electoral Votes. This is true for 48 states, but Nebraska and Maine use a congressional district method that divides the number of Electoral Votes along congressional district lines.
In order for a candidate to win the Presidency, they must accumulate at least 270 Electoral Votes.
Election Day through Inauguration Day: Receive Intelligence Briefings
As a Presidential candidate, the nominees of each major political party have already been receiving intelligence briefings since the summer conventions. This practice will continue after the President-Elect is chosen by the public on Election Day all the way until Inauguration Day in January, but the pace of the briefings intensifies.
The tradition of presidential front-runners being given their own top-secret briefings was started by President Harry S. Truman in 1952 after he was forced to learn about the creation of the atomic bomb in the Manhattan Project a whole 12 days after becoming President. At the time, President Truman remarked, “There were so many things I did not know when I became President,” and that he did not want any future President to suffer the same misfortune.
The sitting President is the one who ultimately determines who receives these briefings, but the front-runners of each party are usually given the opportunity to receive briefings before the General Election. While these briefings are not required for party nominees, they are essential for the President-Elect once they are chosen so that they can fully understand the duties of being Commander-in-Chief. Even after becoming the President-Elect, the candidate will not receive all the same information that the sitting President receives. Details about covert operations and sensitive nuclear programs are not usually part of these briefings and are saved until the President-Elect's term begins.
Early November: Select White House Staffers
Part of the transition process is the selection of White House staffers, and the most important part is for the President-Elect to assemble his key advisors. Every day, the President is faced with scores of decisions with important consequences for the future of this magnificent country and its citizens, and the White House staff is essential in helping the President govern effectively.
Created in 1939 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Executive Office of the President (EOP) has a wide range of responsibilities, including communicating the President's message, promoting the country's trade interests abroad, foreign policy, and much more. While there are many staff members in the White House, the essential staffers are known as the President's Senior Staff, which is comprised of the Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff, and other Senior Advisors.
Of all the positions in the President's staff, the Chief of Staff is the highest ranking employee in the Executive Office of the President. He is the President's right-hand man and confidant, and he is in charge of assisting the President with all his duties, especially selecting other key members of the White House team, managing the President's schedule, and determining who can visit the Oval Office. Although the duties of the Chief of Staff vary greatly from one administration to another, the Chief of Staff has enormous power and is often viewed as the Gatekeeper to the President, and his goal is to protect the interests of the President of the United States.
The Chief of Staff position, as the most important, will be filled immediately after the Election, and he will use his expertise to select the rest of the White House staffers in the following month. These positions have probably already been discussed prior to Election Day, and many of them will be filled by members of the campaign.
Thanksgiving to Christmas: Form the Presidential Cabinet
Comprised of the heads of each federal executive department that makes up the United States Government, the Presidential Cabinet is essential to a well-functioning government, and the President-Elect must select each Cabinet Secretary with the utmost precision.
There is a total of 15 Cabinet members, all of whom must be approved by the United States Senate, but the most important positions are Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Defense, and the Attorney General, who is the head of the Justice Department. Other important positions that must be filled at the same time and with the same amount of care as the Ambassador to the United Nations and the Director of Office of Management and Budget, among others and these positions are subject to Senate approval as well.
The President-Elect must fill the Cabinet with experienced leaders from across the country who must have a combination of executive experience, policy expertise, partisan credentials, and usually personal loyalty to the President. These Cabinet members symbolize the President-Elect's priorities, represent demographic groups, and garner the support of the department they will lead. Their job once in office is to advocate for their policy domain and advise the President in their areas of expertise. Choosing the right people for the jobs is essential to a smooth-running government.
These Cabinet Secretary positions are a top priority, and the President-Elect and his staff work to fill them immediately. As the positions must be confirmed by the Senate, the selection should be promptly after Election Day. At the very latest, the President-Elect needs to have officially selected his appointees by Christmas.
December through the First 200 Days in Office: Fill Other Miscellaneous Government Positions
Once these key positions have been filled, there are still 3,000-6,000 other federal government positions that the President and his team need to fill as soon as possible. Many of these positions are subject to congressional approval, which means that the process can take months and sometimes years. The first 1,000 positions should be filled by August when the President-Elect has now been in office for approximately 200 days, but the process begins as soon as the Senior Staff and Cabinet are chosen.
While these positions do not garner as much attention as Senior Staffers or Cabinet Secretaries, these political appointees are vital to the structure of the White House. Many of these appointees leave weeks or months in advance to the end of the sitting President's term, and civil servants must be designated to keep the government operating smoothly. However, these civil servants are temporary, and the positions must be filled as soon as possible.
Mid-December: Electors Cast Their Ballots
The Electors that are chosen on Election Day meet in their state and vote for the President and Vice President on separate ballots. The Electors then sign, seal, and certify six sets of Electoral Votes, which are distributed to important figures in the government, including the President of the Senate, whose main title is the sitting Vice President.
Early January: President of the Senate Counts Electoral Votes
These votes must be delivered in time for their official count in a congressional joint session on the first Friday of January. The Vice President, in his role as the President of the Senate, presides over the count and announces the results, at which point the candidate who has been selected by the general public will officially be the President-Elect.
If the majority of 270 Electoral Votes is not reached at this count, the House of Representatives will elect the President and Vice President separately.
Inauguration Day: Take Oaths of Office
The most important thing a President-Elect does occurs on Inauguration Day when he assumes his role as President of the United States. The Inauguration marks the beginning of the new Presidency on January 20.
The day will begin with Morning Worship Service, as has been a tradition since Franklin D. Roosevelt attended service at St. John's Episcopal Church on the morning he was sworn into office.
At noon, the sitting President and the President-Elect will arrive together at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., for the Oaths of Office. The new Vice President will be sworn into office first to sustain the order of succession, and then the President-Elect will come front and center to take the Presidential Oath, which is administered by the Chief Justice. The oath is as written in the Constitution: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
After being sworn in, the new President gives a speech called the Inaugural Address, which allows them to communicate their vision to the citizens of our country and to the world. This tradition dates all the way back to George Washington, who gave his Inaugural Address, the shortest in our history, in 1789.
These ceremonies are organized by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, which has final say on almost every detail of the event, including what music plays and at which time.
After the ceremony, the former President, Vice President, and their families are escorted from the Capitol via helicopter, and the new President enjoys lunch hosted by the Joint Committee in Statuary Hall at the Capitol. After this meal, the President is escorted from the Capitol to the White House by an Inaugural Parade.
Inauguration Day: Moving into the White House
During the ceremony on Capitol Hill, the new First Family is officially moved into their new home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The permanent White House staff, comprised of chefs, maids, and many other essential positions to the functioning of the home itself, must say goodbye to the outgoing family only five hours before welcoming their new residents.
While the world is focused on the Inauguration Ceremony, the White House staff will perform one of the trickiest parts of the transition behind the scenes. As soon as the First Family heads to the Capitol, this frantic five-hour period will remove the many belongings of the previous family out of the 132-room mansion, repaint rooms and switch out furniture where necessary, and install the belongings of the new First Family in an extremely well-organized ballet.
Although the possessions are brought to the White House via moving vans, movers are not allowed in the White House for privacy and security reasons, so the permanent staff takes complete control of the operation. The staff, which has approximately 100 people working on the move, is organized into groups with specific jobs so that no person is uncertain of their duties.
By the time the First Family arrives after Inauguration, their clothes will be in the closets, favorite foods in the pantry, and any special furniture will be in the locations they determined. There will be no empty boxes or objects still searching for a home by the time the staff is finished.
Inauguration Day: Inauguration Balls
Later that evening, the new President and First Lady attend a series of Inaugural Balls. The number of the balls varies, but in 1997, the amount reached an all-time high when President Bill Clinton attended a total of 14 balls in his honor.
Aside from the ceremony at the Capitol, these Inaugural festivities are not government functions and are not paid for with taxpayer money. The funding for these events is raised by the Inaugural committees from private donors.
During the two-month period between Election Day and Inauguration Day, the President-Elect must plan his new administration for the four years to come. A smooth transfer of power from one President to the next during this time is a symbol of American democracy, continuity, and change, and these two months are vital to a peaceful transition.