The results of the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3 were much closer than most opinion polls, media reports and political pundits predicted.
Several states were (and are) still counting ballots and it appeared early on that either Republican President Donald Trump or Democratic candidate Joe Biden would win by a razor-thin margin.
Millions of mail-in and absentee ballots in several states largely went to Biden. He also made a huge comeback in Pennsylvania, which ultimately put him over the top in the electoral college.
Biden was finally declared the winner of the presidential election and has been widely described as the president-elect. The first part is correct but the second isn’t.
The term president-elect has been badly misused and misinterpreted in recent years. I’m a stickler when it comes to the proper use of words, sentences, punctuation, terms, clauses, definitions and so forth. We all make mistakes with the English language, including me – but it’s important to learn from them and do better.
America’s founding fathers didn’t come up with the provision of a president-elect. It was included in the 20th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which was adopted on Jan. 23, 1933. This amendment modified the starting and closing terms of the president and vice-president from March 4 to Jan. 20 and ensured a line of succession was established before inauguration day.
This is covered in Section 3:
“If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.”
What does “qualify” refer to?
You can only become president or vice-president by obtaining the required 270 votes out of 538 in the electoral college. The popular vote is often, but not always, an indicator of who will be the next president and vice-president – but it’s not the decider.
Meanwhile, the only way the electoral college can be held next month in the state capitals (which occurs on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December, as decreed by Congress) is if all the states are certified – and all legal challenges are completed.
This isn’t the case now.
Votes are still being counted in 12 states. This includes a few that have already been declared (Florida, Iowa and Texas) and few that haven’t announced a winner (Georgia, North Carolina and Arizona). Hence, the election isn’t officially over.
Georgia has announced it will hold an official recount. As of Monday, Biden is leading Trump by 11,589 votes in that state, or 0.2 percent. There’s also a possibility Arizona, where Biden leads by 16,730, or 0.5 percent, could face the same fate.
Trump’s legal team is gearing up to challenge the results in Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania (Biden leads by 0.7 percent), Michigan (Biden by 2.7 percent) and Nevada (Biden by 2.7 percent). They allege instances of voting and electoral fraud. While there are some videos of small, isolated examples, no evidence has been presented that it’s happening on a large scale. If some courts believe there’s enough evidence to hear these cases, none of the states involved can certify the results.
The president and his legal advisers also plan to approach the U.S. Supreme Court. If the highest court in the land agrees to hear this case, everything will remain up in the air until they reach a decision. This is similar to the “hanging chad” controversy in Florida that led to George W. Bush beating Al Gore in 2000. (Gore was also incorrectly called the president-elect.)
When you put it all together, Biden isn’t the president-elect. You can attach descriptions such as ‘likely’ or ‘presumptive’ next to this designation, but it’s not accurate on its own just yet.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.