Grammar

When Does a Candidate Officially Become President-Elect?

123RF

We didn’t have a clear winner in the presidential race on Election Night. Since then, we began referring to Joe Biden as President-Elect.

It took a while, but many news outlets and others now refer to former Vice President Joe Biden as “president-elect.” The title has been around for a long time. But if you try to nail down its exact meaning, you notice something quickly. It’s complicated.

Merriam-Webster defines the president-elect as someone voters elected to the presidency “but who has not officially become president yet.”

As officials counted more and more states’ ballots, it became easier to predict the likely winner state by state. But it still took time for Biden to presumably win the required 270 electoral votes.

Even so, he’s not officially the president yet.

Biden becomes the president of the United States on Inauguration Day. That event is scheduled for Jan. 20. Former Sen. Kamala Harris will take the oath to become the vice president that same day.

There’s a set time when a president-elect becomes president.

But how they reach that first title remains open to debate. It depends on whom you ask. It also depends on when you ask.

Plenty of Donald Trump supporters complain that Joe Biden “isn’t president, yet.” No one disputes that fact. Biden doesn’t even dispute that.

But some Trump supporters even argue that we shouldn’t called Biden president-elect yet. I note that these same folks found zero problem with referring to Trump that way before his inauguration in 2016.

The Electoral College, which casts those all-important electoral votes, meets in December. Officially, it meets on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December in a presidential election. In 2020, that day falls on Dec. 14. The electors will “officially” elect Biden president that date.

But even so, he won’t become president until he takes the oath of office.

Wikipedia makes an interesting point in this debate.

There is no explicit indication in the Constitution when that person actually becomes president-elect,” it says.

Because Biden appears to have won the required 270 electoral votes, we consider him the presumptive future president. That, technically, is enough to warrant the term.

Trump supporters will no doubt disagree with that assessment.

But so far, it looks as though Biden will, in fact, be the next president, effective Jan. 20.

But only time will tell.

Loading spinner
Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.