In the USA, the President is elected by the Electoral College. After the United States Presidental Election, 2016, Donald Trump was referred to as President-Elect as soon as his candidacy was projected to have enough electors. Apparently, this is officially recognised, since he met with President Obama and started receiving security briefings. How does it work that Trump is formally recognised as President-Elect when even though he has not yet formally been elected by the Electoral College?


2 Answers 2


I looked at the Wikipedia entry on the term, where they state this in the opening sentences:

President-elect of the United States is the title used for an incoming president of the United States during 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.

My assumption was that the term itself was more or less used informally as a general rule and that there weren't any real definitions to when the starting and stopping of using that term to refer to someone. I was wrong, and enter the Presidential Transition Act of 1963 (pdf):

(c) The terms “President-elect” and “Vice-President-elect” as used in this Act shall mean such persons as are the apparent successful candidates for the office of the President and Vice President, respectively, as ascertained by the Administrator following the general elections held to determine the electors of the President and Vice-President in accordance with title 3, United States code, sections 1 and 2.

Emphasis mine

The term is being used such as to identify who apparently is going to be the next President. Power transitions are tough, especially in times when a big change in direction is most likely going to take place so it makes sense to try to give the incoming President as much time as possible to organize their team and hit the ground running as fast as possible. Absent a precedent-shattering event when the electoral college votes, the apparent winner of the general election will be the next President.

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    As this answer shows, the Electoral College is pretty much set set since the most faithless electors we've had was 23 in 1836. It would take far more to do that this election, and would likely cause a crisis. Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 14:58
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    @Thunderforge I completely agree, but I still think December 19th may actually be a pretty good day for CSPAN viewership, if nothing but just to see if there are any.
    – user5155
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 15:03
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    In Britain, when a Prime Minister leaves office involuntarily, either by a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons, or by losing a general election, the removal vans arrive outside 10 Downing Street the following day. And the new incumbent enters the hallowed portals immediately, directly after kissing hands with the Queen. This is made possible since there remains continuity through the Civil Service, which considers itself apolitical. The senior civil servants, ambassadors etc remain the same through a change of government. So no such thing as a Prime Minister elect.
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 15:26
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    This answer might be improved upon significantly by stating whether the same thing was done in the previous elections.
    – vsz
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 18:40
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    So is this more like being an heir presumptive or an heir apparent?
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 12, 2016 at 21:27

You need to note that the result of the Electoral College vote has already been decided by the popular vote and the decision has never been reversed in the US history before. In other words, the presidential election on Nov. 8th is to choose "electors" who usually pledge to vote for particular candidates. It is nothing but a legal procedure to elect the president.

Of course, it is possible for those electors to cast an electoral vote for someone other than the person pledged or does not vote for any person, but it rarely happened. In addition, 24 states have laws to punish faithless electors.

As electoral slates are typically chosen by the political party or the party's presidential nominee, electors usually have high loyalty to the party and its candidate: a faithless elector runs a greater risk of party censure than criminal charges.

Faithless electors have not changed the outcome of any presidential election to date. For example, in 2000 elector Barbara Lett-Simmons of Washington, D.C. chose not to vote, rather than voting for Al Gore as she had pledged to do. This was done as an act of protest against Washington, D.C.'s lack of congressional voting representation. That elector's abstention did not change who won that year's presidential election, as George W. Bush received a majority (271) of the electoral votes. (Emphasis mine)

[Source: Wikipedia article on Electoral College (United States)]

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