Changing the length of the Interregnum?

As a Brit, one of the things that always surprises me about the US system is the long delay between the election and the inauguration. As you probably know, in the UK, the new Government is in control and the new Prime Minister is in 10 Downing Street normally within 24 hours.

I’m not questioning the merits of either system and I sort of understand the original reason behind it (to give the Electoral College electors time to travel in winter – is that right?) but has there ever been a serious proposal to change this? Have the College meet within a week and hold the Inauguration before the end of November?

Also – why are Presidential elections (and Congressional?) in November. In the UK governments generally avoid the winter months for General Elections because of the short days and bad weather.


We’d need a Constitutional Amendment to change the timing. As for why November… I suspect that’s simply because that’s when they needed to hold the first one, and since we have a written constitution, things like guaranteed election dates are important.

Another reason for the length of the interregnum is the occasional need for a recount, which can take a month or two. Say, for example, here in Minnesota–our senatorial race had a difference of about 500 votes, and the law states a recount must be done if the difference is less than 15,000. So, we won’t know until mid-late December who our next senator is going to be–a comedian or a nutcase.

We could change the timing of Election Day by statute. But, given that the January 20 inauguration day is written into the Constitution, any change to bring the two closer together would involve moving Election Day even more toward winter.

Election Day was originally set for early November because it was after most of the harvest was in, but before the onset of severe weather in most of the country.

In any case, two reasons why we don’t move the two closer together:

  1. Under our decentralized and more complicated (more offices at stake) electoral system, we have to allow more time for recounts and challenges in close elections (in 2000 there still wasn’t enough time).

  2. Under a presidential system, the transition takes more time. We don’t have a shadow cabinet. The new president has to choose his cabinet and staff between now and January.

Remember that the President is also our Head of State. Even in the UK, I suspect that a coronation takes a little more planning. :wink:

Well, a recount could be pivotal to a UK election, too. It just hasn’t happened yet.

We used to hold elections earlier in the year (I think right after the autumn harvest season), which gave an even longer transition. After the 1860 election, the southern states used the time to organize the secession and set up the Confederation.

After the Civil War, it was decided to move the election day back to November and shorten the transition time.

But if you had a recount, it would most likely be for just one or two seats in the House of Commons, and I believe it’s just a matter of counting the paper ballots.

A recount in the US involves, at a minimum, an entire state, with elections run at the county level using a variety of voting apparatus. Plus we have both state and federal courts that can get involved. It just takes longer.

Doubly wrong. Elections have been held in November since 1845. The inauguration was moved from March to January in 1935, as a result of the difficult 1932-33 transition during the Great Depression.

Actually no, the US always had elections in Nov and inaugurations for the new President in March. It was changed in the 30’s.

No, the election has been in November since 1848. The inauguration day was changed from March 4 to January 20 in 1937.

One of the reasons the U.K. doesn’t need as long an interregnum is because the new Prime Minister is already a member of Parliament. In the U.S. the new President could come from anywhere. A president needs time to assemble advisors, Cabinet members (who also wouldn’t necessarily already be a part of government) and physically make the move to Washington.

As Alive noted above, the time between election and inauguration has already been reduced from four months to two.

To answer this part of your question, I do remember this as an occasional topic of discussion during the 1960’s and 1970’s. There was concern during the Cold War that the United States was vulnerable to an international crisis during the long interregnum. From time to time, members of Congress introduced constitutional amendments to move the inauguration to early December. (To my knowledge, none advanced past the hearing stage.)

Since then, two things have happened, IMO, to quash this movement. First, presidential appointments have become more contentious. Given the multiplicity of news media and a more scandal-conscious political climate, presidents need to vet their cabinet and staff appointments more carefully than ever.

Second, there was the 2000 election. Recounts take time–sometimes, lots of time. I would say right now that there is zero movement to shorten the transition period.

However, you can become monarch even faster than you become prime minister. The current monarch woke up one morning in a tree in Kenya to find that she had become queen overnight.

You can become US President that quickly, too, as did Lyndon Johnson in 1963.

Correction: we have recounts frequently. When we do, the counters start the recount immediately. Logically the recount takes roughly the same amount of time as the count. So if the count took six hours, so would the recount. How can it be different in the US? And how on earth can it take a month?

Sorry - I’ve just seen Freddy the Pig’s post. But I still don’t see how if a state can produce its result overnight, how it can take so long to do the same thing again. (But I am very ignorant about the machinations of the US electoral system.)

Nitpick: Interregnum is the term applied when there is a vacancy in the throne. There is no vacancy in the Office of the President; Bush is still POTUS.

Thanks to everybody who has replied. If I have understood what you have all been saying, the interregnum was reduced in the 30’s (did this require a Constitutional Ammendment?) but there are practical reasons for not reducing it further. These seem to be about the problems of recounts and - probably the important one - the need for the President Elect to assemble his team as he does not have a shadow cabinet who have been forming the opposition in parliament for years. This all sort of makes sense although 11/12 weeks still seems a long time, particularly as it seems that everybody will be back to thinking about campaigning in two years time!

I was prompted to ask by news reports about the problems with doing anything significant about the country’s economic problems in the next two months. Who decides, who takes responsibility?

Terminus Est - I know the original meaning of Interregnum but I had heard it in this context and a quick Google seemed to confirm it was in common - if sloppy - usage.

If you’ve got 1 million ballots, and the winner has 600,000, it’s no big deal if you dropped a few hundred here or there, so the first quick & dirty count is all that’s needed. But if you’ve got 1 million ballots, and the first count showed 500,250 - 499,750, a mere 500 vote difference, the recount will take a while, since the loser is going to want to make sure each and every ballot is examined carefully. That’s what happened in Florida in 2000 - there were a couple of recounts, each with differing totals, the whole horrible hanging chad fiasco, etc.

Many would say these two sentences contradict each other. :wink:

Yes it did – the 20th Amendment.

The sitting president – in today’s situation, George W. Bush. He is still president (though a lame duck, which means everyone knows he’ll be gone, so Congress may be less willing to do what he asks).

Until January 20, Bush is in charge. Once Obama is inaugurated, he gets to govern. Usually, presidents try to work together in the transition, but there’s no requirement they do.

Yes–although curiously enough, the original inauguration date of March 4 wasn’t set by the Constitution. It was set by the old Continental Congress when it established the transition schedule for the new Constitution.

Once it was established, however, it was felt that it couldn’t be moved without a constitutional amendment, because to do so would shorten the terms (two, four, or six years) of the incumbent office-holders.