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Has any US President-Elect ever failed to take office? Either by refusing, or by some health or legal issue which has come up between Polling Day and Inauguration Day?

If this did happen, would the President-Elect ever technically be considered President? And what is the legal status of the President-Elect anyway? Does he/she have any legally binding power?

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No, it has never happened.

There hasn't been any President-elect that died before Inauguration Day and after the Electoral College votes.

The President-elect would not be recognised as a President since they did not inaugurate. Since it isn't technically a real office, the President-elect wouldn't have legally binding power.

William Henry Harrison (the 9th President) died 32 days into his term, but it's still after Inauguration Day.

  • This answer is correct, but does not address the second part of the question – David Grinberg Oct 20 '16 at 20:05
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Has any US President-Elect ever failed to take office? Either by refusing, or by some health or legal issue which has come up between Polling Day and Inauguration Day?

No. To date, every president-elect has deliberately sought the job. No one has ever been drafted into it. So refusing the presidency has been an unlikely result. That will most likely continue.

As previously mentioned, several presidents have died early in their term. But the only presidential candidate who died after the election and before the transition was Horace Greeley in 1872, and he lost. Greeley actually died before the electoral college vote. If a winning candidate died at that point, such a candidate would technically never be the president-elect.

Example source: http://presidentelect.org/art_deathpresidentelect.html

If this did happen, would the President-Elect ever technically be considered President?

No. She or he would never take the oath of office and by the Greeley precedent would not have been eligible at the time of the transition. The constitution (as currently amended) specifically provides for this case, making the vice-president-elect the president.

And what is the legal status of the President-Elect anyway? Does he/she have any legally binding power?

A president-elect has no official powers. However, custom allows the president-elect to make decisions about things like appointments that will officially occur after the transfer of power. It's also not uncommon for incumbents to ask the next president's opinion on matters that will carry over.

In the 2009 transition, the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security continued past the end of George W. Bush's term. The Secretary of Homeland Security was only in office for a day (to allow for the next one to be confirmed by the Senate). It's unclear what would have happened if the president-elect (Barack Obama) had died after notifying people that he wanted to retain these two and before the transition. Presumably the vice-president-elect could change or confirm these decisions prior to the transition. In absence of that, it's unclear what would happen.

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    A few slight caveats to the lack of official powers. All viable Presidential candidates are entitled to Secret Service Protection and to intelligence briefings until they lose the election or take office. Custom affords a President-elect a right to cooperation from the incumbent for his or her transition team as well. – ohwilleke Oct 21 '16 at 6:49

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