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All major news organizations from across the political spectrum have projected that Joe Biden has won the 2020 US Presidential Election. Today, the nonpartisan Center for Presidential Transition issued a letter asking the General Services Administration (GSA) to ascertain Joe Biden as the President-Elect. Under the Presidential Transition Act, the GSA needs to do this before the Biden transition team can receive federal funding and federal agencies can start communicating with the transition team to ensure a smooth transition.

My question is, what is the process by which the GSA ascertains someone as the President-Elect? What criteria does a candidate have to meet? I don’t think they wait all the way until the election outcome has been certified or the electoral college has met, they do it much sooner than that. Do they just wait until news organizations project a winner, or until the runner up in the election has conceded, or what?

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When and how does the GSA ascertain the President-Elect?
My question is, what is the process by which the GSA ascertains someone as the President-Elect?
What criteria does a candidate have to meet?
Do they just wait until news organizations project a winner, or until the runner up in the election has conceded, or what?

Discretion of the Administrator of General Services. Though concession by the runner-up is not required, the timing appears closely related to concession.

Presidential Transition Act: Provisions and Funding, October 5, 2016

Ascertaining the “Apparent Successful Candidates”

For the purposes of the PTA, the “President-elect” and “Vice-President-elect” are defined as “the apparent successful candidates for the office of President and Vice President, respectively, as ascertained by the Administrator following the general elections.”1 In the immediate aftermath of the contested November 7, 2000, presidential election, neither candidate was provided with the resources that would be available for the President-elect and Vice President-elect. In testimony before the House Committee on Government Reform, Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology, Administrator David J. Barram testified: “In this unprecedented, incredibly close and intensely contested election, with legal action being pursued by both sides, it is not apparent to me who the winner is. That is why I have not ascertained a President-elect.” In his testimony, the Administrator drew on a 1963 House floor debate concerning the PTA, during which a sponsor of the legislation stated that, “in a close contest, the Administrator simply would not make the decision.” The GSA Deputy Administrator reportedly provided PTA facilities and funds to the Bush-Cheney transition team on December 14, 2000, the day following Vice President Al Gore’s concession speech.

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1§3(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 President and Vice President, respectively, as ascertained by the Administrator following the general elections held to determine the electors of President and Vice President in accordance with title 3, United States Code, sections 1 and 2.

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The GSA is directed to release resources to the president elect for the purposes of transition no sooner than the day after the day of the general election and no later than 30 days after being sworn into office. It is the GSA Administrator's right to ascertain who the president elect will be. Specifically, the terms President-elect and Vice-President-elect are defined in U. S. Title 3, Chapter 2, Section 102.

(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 President and Vice President, respectively, as ascertained by the Administrator following the general elections held to determine the electors of President and Vice President in accordance with title 3, United States Code, sections 1 and 2.

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    It's easy to misread your answer as saying that the Administrator could wait to release resources to the President-elected and VP-elect until 30 days after they were sworn in as President and Vice President. What the section says is that the Administrator can't release funds more than 30 days after the -elects are sworn in. E.g., that's the point at which funds must stop being released. Does it say anywhere by what time the funds must be started to be released? (Other than not before the day after the election.) I didn't see it in 102. – T.J. Crowder Nov 9 at 17:05
  • Resources can be released up until they can't. The section is silent on when they must be released by. It's all at the Administrator's discretion. – psaxton Nov 9 at 23:44
  • Yeah, I thought that might be the case. – T.J. Crowder Nov 10 at 7:04
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There is no deadline specified. After the 2000 U.S. presidential election, the GSA administrator waited over a month before making the determiniation. See https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2000/12/who-decides-who-is-the-president-elect.html

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    I didn’t ask about whether there’s a deadline by which they have to do it. I’m asking what determines when they do it, and what is the process by which they do it. They don’t wait until after the election has been certified/the electoral college has met, so what criteria do they use to determine whether to make an ascertainment? – Keshav Srinivasan Nov 9 at 1:36
  • And the 2000 election is a case where the news organizations (after some premature calls that were quickly retracted) took a while to make a projection. So it’s consistent with the notion that the GSA bases its ascertainment on the projections of news organizations. – Keshav Srinivasan Nov 9 at 1:38
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    @KeshavSrinivasan Presumably though the existence (or not) of a deadline is highly relevant to "what determines when they do it". – JBentley Nov 9 at 9:55

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