To the average American, the time between election day and inauguration seems like a period of rest after all the energy and effort of going out to vote. But there is a whole checklist of tasks before the next president takes office. Let’s break down all the steps that go into the transfer of presidential power three key phases.
Long before election day, starting in April or May, members of the transition team gather. This team meets with members of Congress, the current administration, the General Services Administration, the Government Ethics Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Personnel Management Office to set goals and prepare the transition plan.
After election day, the votes are counted (and count if necessary) and each state certifies its results. According to the Electoral Census Act, all states must meet a deadline by which all votes are counted, disputes are resolved, and the winner is declared in the Electoral College.
Electoral votes are cast on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. Voters are meeting in their respective states to vote for the president and send the results to Washington. Prior to the official count, the new Congress was sworn in at noon on January 3.
According to official guide to Senate sittings, “The Senate follows a well-established routine on the day of the opening of a new Congress. Proceedings include the swearing in of senators elected or re-elected in the last general election (approximately one-third of the Senate) or newly appointed in the convened Senate;
- establishing the presence of a quorum
- adoption of administrative decisions
- adoption of rules for the new congress
- adoption by unanimity of a date other than the date of convening on which bills and joint resolutions may begin to be tabled
- election of a new interim president and one or more Senate officials if there is a vacancy or a change in party control.
The Senate President (also known as the Vice President) then holds a special session with members of Congress to count the votes. There are 538 electoral votes and one candidate must win a minimum of 270. Each vote is then read in alphabetical order by two nominees from the House of Representatives and the Senate. The President of the Senate announces the calculations and hears any objections.
At the same time, the transition team will start working within this 75-day period. Key activities during this time (as indicated in A guide to the presidential transition) include “recruitment to the White House and agencies; deployment of agency review teams to visit agencies; building the policy and management programs and schedule of the newly elected president; and identifying the key talent needed to meet the new president’s priorities.
The next president is sworn in at noon on January 20. During this phase, the new administration sets the president’s top priorities and finalizes the staff and appointees who will work to achieve these immediate goals. It is estimated that more than 4,000 political appointments will be made.
The importance of a peaceful transition
IN peaceful transfer of power from the current administration to the new administration is a long-standing American tradition. When George Washington voluntarily resigned his presidency, it established the continuing practice of presidents relinquishing power after losing an election.
At the practical level, the transition of powers between administrations is necessary, as the US federal government is one of the largest organizations. Transferring control to this level is quite complicated. Without an adequate transition – especially with regard to national security briefings – the nation’s security is at risk.
Symbolically, when the president relinquishes power after a loss, it means that the will of the electorate really rules the country. Refusal to relinquish poses a threat to American citizens’ trust in the government, which is already in question following cases of voter repression and confusion of the importance of voting. Peaceful transition strengthens people’s faith in the democratic process.