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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Tickets to History

Q: How can one get inauguration tickets?

A: Tickets to watch the swearing-in can be requested through the Washington, D.C., offices of an individual’s representative or senators. But you’ll need some luck to score one.

Tickets can be acquired free of charge from members of Congress, who will get them the week before the Jan. 20, 2009, inauguration. The person requesting tickets must pick them up in person. But it’s going to be tough to get them.

There are about 240,000 tickets available to the public, but officials are expecting a crowd that could be as large as 4 million. Tickets allow entry to the Capitol lawn to witness Obama’s swearing-in, but no tickets will be needed to be part of the throng on the Mall or along the Pennsylvania Avenue inaugural parade route, where officials are planning to set up extra JumboTron video screens.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Joint Congressional Committee for Inaugural Ceremonies, has said that the demand for tickets is very high. Feinstein’s office received 8,000 ticket requests the day after the election, according to the Associated Press. The Wall Street Journal reported in a Nov. 17 story that Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia had received "29,000 calls or emails requesting tickets to the inauguration, with some asking for as many as 25 tickets." Webb’s office told reporters the senator expected to get about 500 tickets to hand out, and he has asked for more than other senators, since Virginia is close to the nation’s capital. Each House member will get only 198 tickets to hand out, according to Roll Call. Washington state Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray have stopped taking ticket requests.

As with any hot ticket event, there have been reported cases of tickets being sold online. Concern about scalping is one reason the actual tickets won’t be handed out until a week before the swearing-in. In fact, Howard Gantman, a Feinstein aide and staff director of the inaugural committee, cautions people who find tickets for sale to be very skeptical, since no one has the tickets in hand now. Feinstein also has introduced a bill that would make it a federal crime, a misdemeanor, for anyone to sell or attempt to sell, or forge inauguration tickets. Offenders would face up to a year in jail and up to $100,000 in fines.

After meeting with members of the inaugural committee, eBay Inc. announced it won’t allow tickets to be sold on its Web sites.

-Ronald Lampard, with D’Angelo Gore


Inaugural Tickets. Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Inaugural.senate.gov, accessed 21 Nov. 2008.

Werner, Erica. Senator Asks Sites not to Sell Inaugural Tickets. Associated Press, 11 Nov. 2008.

Stewart, Nikita and Michael E. Ruane. "Can Mall Be Filled For an Inauguration? 4 Million May Try It." Washington Post, 18 Nov. 2008.