The Presidential Transition and What It Means For Our Country


The Associated Press electoral map as of 12/9/2020

Daniel Bell ‘22, News Editor

On the morning of November 7th, the 2020 United States Presidential Race was called by the Associated Press for former Vice President Joe Biden. The call marked the end of a contentious and drawn out 4-day battle slowed by the massive increase in mail-in ballots. The election also saw record turnout, with both incumbent and challenger setting a record number of votes (74 million and 80 million, respectively). Margins in key states were close but decisive, giving Biden a clear victory in the Electoral College, with a projected 306 electoral votes to President Trump’s 232.

However, President Trump has refused to concede, repeating his claims of widespread and rampant voter fraud while failing to provide any evidence, even going so far to fire his own Cybersecurity Chief, Chris Krebs, for his agency’s determination that the election was the safest and most secure in the nation’s history. Instead, the President launched a barrage of lawsuits and efforts in an attempt to overturn the results of the election. President Trump has created a new legal team, led by his personal lawyer Rudy Guiliani, tasked with unmasking the alleged fraud and widespread conspiracy amid mail ballots and voting machines, capitalizing on the concerns Democratic candidates expressed with those machines in past elections. 

This effort has been an overwhelming  failure, sometimes comically so. After a wild and incoherent press conference staged outside a Philadelphia landscaping company, the Trump Campaign filed lawsuits in every battleground state, seeking in many cases to toss out the entirety of a state or county’s votes, all with minimal or nonsensical evidence. As such, their attempts to overturn the results in court have failed. Dozens of cases have been rejected by liberal and conservative judges alike. One case in Pennsylvania was dismissed by a Republican judge “with prejudice” – meaning that not only was the case dismissed, but the Trump Campaign cannot not refile it.

The campaign hosted another press conference at the Republic National Convention in which lawyer Sidney Powell described an extensive alleged conspiracy between political “elites,” Dominion Voting Systems, the deceased Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, the Clinton Foundation, and many other seemingly unrelated entities that stole the election from the President. Again, Powell failed to provide any evidence for these claims, and the idea was so outlandish that it drew widespread mockery and condemnation, even from some Trump allies. Powell was quietly removed by the Trump Campaign several days later  

While refusing to concede, it seemed clearer and clearer that the President could not litigate his way to victory, nor could he convince Republican legislatures in key states to ignore the popular vote of their states and appoint pro-Trump electors instead, an act which would be illegal in some states and of dubious legality in others.

Finally, on November 23, the President relented and allowed the General Services Administration (GSA) to begin the transition process after a long delay, for, as he put it, the “Good of the Country.” However, he insisted that this was not a concession and vowed to fight on against an election he claimed was rigged against him. 

While he may not have admitted defeat, the move to allow the GSA to provide the Biden administration with the necessary information to begin the transition was a concession in practice, if not in name. The Biden campaign now has access to federal funds to complete their transition, as well as top-level security briefings and federal agencies. Biden has already begun nominating cabinet members and other White House positions, saying he was “pleased to have received the ascertainment from GSA to carry out a smooth and peaceful transition of power, so our teams can prepare to meet the challenges at hand.” 

Biden’s Cabinet picks include Antony Blinken, his long term foreign policy advisor, as Secretary of State, Janet Yellen as Secretary of the Treasury, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who served as Director of the Foriegn Service and ambassador to Liberia, as ambassador to the United Nations. Many of Biden’s Cabinet picks have roots or connections in the Obama administration. While not having much name recognition, his nominations are mostly career civil servants. Whether or not they are confirmed by the Senate, which will quite possibly be under Republican control for the next two years, remains to be seen.

However, Biden has made it clear during the transition process that he intends to reverse course from the policies of the Trump Administration. Trump and many of his Republican allies may continue to push disproven allegations of widespread mail fraud, but the transition process has already begun. The concession of President Trump would help the process, but is by no means required for the transition to be completed. 

An area of larger concern to many is the potential ramifications of a sitting President refusing to accept the results of an election. Many of Trump’s supporters, a considerable swath of the American electorate, believe the election was rigged and stolen from their candidate. The concept of contingent consent, or the agreement to accept the winner of a fair election as leader regardless of who wins, is critical to a functioning democracy.  Many Democratic leaders have expressed concern over the viability of American democracy should almost half of the electorate refuse to accept the results of an election.

Most states have already verified and certified their results. A deadlock in Michigan’s Wayne County (Detroit) where the two Republicans on the board of canvassers, Monica Palmer and William Hartmann, refused to certify after a call with President Trump, citing tabulation irregularities. Such irregularities are common, especially in larger cities, and usually are not indicative of fraud or enough to change the results of an election. The irregularities this year were on par with those in 2016, when President Trump won Michigan. After extensive public pressure and anger following Palmer’s proposal to not certify any votes from Detroit and Detroit only, the two backtracked and the results from Wayne County were certified. Lawsuits in Georgia and Pennsylvania aimed at stopping certification likewise failed. 

On December 14th, the members of the Electoral College meet to cast their votes. On January 6th, those votes are certified, and the winner of that vote is sworn in on January 20th. Confirmation hearings and votes on Cabinet nominations can begin even before that time. With access to the government and funds from the GSA, and a clear popular vote and electoral vote majority,  Joe Biden will almost certainly take office on January 20th. Despite the protests and challenges of the incumbent, the legal gears involved in the transition process are churning ahead towards Inauguration Day.