Of the 19 GOP candidates questioned by The Washington Post, a dozen declined to answer or refused to commit. Democrats overwhelmingly said they would respect the results.
The reluctance of many GOP candidates to embrace a long-standing tenet of American democracy shows how Trump’s assault on the integrity of U.S. elections has spread far beyond the 2020 presidential race. This year, multiple losing candidates could refuse to accept their defeats.
Trump, who continues to claim without evidence that his loss to Joe Biden in 2020 was rigged, has attacked fellow Republicans who do not agree — making election denialism the price of admission in many GOP primaries. More than half of all Republican nominees for federal and statewide office with powers over election administration have embraced unproven claims that fraud tainted Biden’s win, according to a Washington Post tally.
Acceptance of an electoral outcome — win or lose — was once a virtual certainty in American politics, although there have been exceptions. In 2018, Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams cited voter suppression as a reason for refusing to concede defeat to Republican opponent Brian Kemp. But unlike Trump, Abrams never sought to overturn the certified result or foment an insurrection.
In competitive races for governor or Senate in Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas, GOP candidates declined to say that they would accept this year’s result. All but two — incumbent senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Marco Rubio of Florida — have publicly embraced Trump’s false claims about 2020, according to a Post analysis.
The Post asked candidates if they would “accept the result” of their contest this year as well as what circumstances might cause them not to.
Several used the opportunity of The Post’s survey to raise further doubts about the integrity of U.S. elections. Michigan GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon answered the question of whether she would be willing to accept the result in November’s race by renewing her unfounded attacks on the Democratic secretary of state for her handling of the last election.
“In 2020, Jocelyn Benson knowingly and willfully broke laws designed to secure our elections, which directly correlates to people’s lack of faith in the integrity of our process,” said Sara Broadwater, a spokeswoman for Dixon, who is challenging Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and has said repeatedly that the 2020 election was stolen.
No evidence has emerged that Benson, the Michigan secretary of state, broke any laws in 2020. Dixon’s campaign added that if authorities “follow the letter of the law” this year, then “we can all have a reasonable amount of faith in the process.” She pointedly did not say whether she will accept the results.
Whitmer, for her part, responded to The Post’s survey by pledging to accept the outcome and accusing her opponents of “trying to weaken our democracy, undermine trust in American institutions and silence the voice of Michiganders.”
The question of whether elections can be trusted has been central to campaigns from both parties this season, though the substance of their messages has been marked by vivid contrast.
Many Republicans have sought voters’ support — and Trump’s — by repeating his false statements about a stolen election. Democrats have warned that such claims put democracy in peril. Candidates willing to deny the results of a legitimate election, they argue, can’t be trusted to oversee future votes.
Biden, in a speech earlier this month railing against “MAGA Republicans” for their refusal to accept the 2020 result, said: “Democracy cannot survive when one side believes there are only two outcomes to an election: either they win or they were cheated.”
In nonpartisan circles, too, democracy advocates and election-law scholars agree that growing mistrust in U.S. elections presents a grave threat to the nation.
“Faith in election integrity is a huge piece of what makes democracy work,” said Paige Alexander, who leads the Atlanta-based Carter Center, a nonpartisan group founded by former president Jimmy Carter that promotes freedom and human rights around the globe.
The organization has monitored elections in foreign nations for many years, often asking candidates to sign pledges that they will accept the certified result of a free and fair contest. With the proliferation of false claims about the 2020 election, Alexander said, the center’s leadership agreed that it was time to circulate a similar pledge among candidates in the United States as well.
The center is focusing on five battleground states this year — Arizona, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and Michigan — but its pledge welcomes any candidate, former elected official or organization to sign.
“When the integrity of U.S. elections began to be questioned via lawsuits, via media, via misinformation, we realized that one way to gather all the candidates and people who really do respect the election process was around these principles,” she said. She said the center has just begun sending the pledge out to candidates, obtaining commitments so far from Republican and Democratic nominees for Georgia governor and secretary of state.
Dixon was the only candidate who responded to the survey with an explanation of why she would not necessarily commit to accepting the result. The campaign of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) responded that he would have nothing to say. Ten other Republicans did not respond to the survey despite repeated inquiries. And seven pledged to accept the results, including Colorado Senate contender Joe O’Dea.
O’Dea, who is behind in the polls as he attempts to unseat incumbent Colorado Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D), did not reference Trump by name, but used his response to offer notably sharp criticism of candidates who refuse to concede when they lose.
“There’s no polite way to put it. We have become a nation of poor sports and cry babies,” said O’Dea. “We’ll keep a close eye on things, but after the process is done and the votes are counted, I’ll absolutely accept the outcome. If the Senator is up for it, we can certify it over a beer. It’s time for America’s leaders to start acting like adults again. Loser buys.”
Bennet also responded to The Post’s survey by pledging to accept the results of a certified election.
Others who have questioned the 2020 result told The Post that they would nonetheless accept the result in their own races this year.
“Ohio is blessed to have a fantastic Secretary of State who has made election security a top priority — we have no doubt Ohio’s election in 2022 will be run with integrity,” a spokesperson for Ohio Senate contender J.D. Vance wrote in an email. “J.D. encourages other states across the country to follow Ohio’s lead by implementing common-sense measures like voter ID and signature verification.”
A spokeswoman for Abrams, who is challenging Kemp again this year, said she “will acknowledge the victor of the 2022 election” and noted that she “has never failed to do that” — a reference to Abrams’s refusal to concede when Kemp defeated her in 2018. Republicans have accused Abrams of being an election denier much like Trump and his supporters, but the candidate has rejected that comparison, given Trump’s fantastical claims of fraud and the violence that ensued.
“I have never denied that I lost,” Abrams said on a recent appearance on the ABC television show “The View.” “I don’t live in the governor’s mansion. I would have noticed.”
When Abrams ended her campaign in 2018, she acknowledged that Kemp had secured enough votes to claim victory, but she never conceded and she maintained that voter suppression had played a role in denying her victory. She said on a 2018 appearance on “The View” that she “absolutely” stood by that decision because “the election was not fair.”
Exactly what would happen if multiple candidates refused to accept their defeats after Nov. 8 is not clear — and depends on the state. Certainly a flurry of litigation, much like 2020, would be likely.
But absent hard evidence of irregularities, such legal efforts are likely to meet the same fate as the dozens of lawsuits filed two years ago, all of which went nowhere.
In many of the battleground states, election officials who have not embraced Trump’s false claims about widespread election fraud continue to have the power to certify election results — or the power to ask a judge to order a state or local election board to do so. In other places, the potential for chaos is hard to predict because election deniers now hold positions such as county clerk or electoral board member.
If Dixon questioned the result in Michigan, for instance, it is possible that the Board of State Canvassers, a four-person panel made up of two Democrats and two Republicans, would deadlock over whether to certify the results. What might happen next could take the state into uncharted territory.
Benson, the Michigan secretary of state, said in an interview that candidates are entitled to contest a result they believe is inaccurate or tainted, and there are multiple avenues to do so, including recounts and litigation. If those efforts do not produce evidence of inaccuracies, however, Benson said, it is the legal obligation of county and state boards of canvassers to certify the result. If they don’t, she said she would immediately seek an order for them to do so from the state Supreme Court.
It’s a plan she drew up in 2020, when the Board of State Canvassers nearly succumbed to pressure not to certify Biden’s win in the state.
“We have to recognize that the real motivation here is to delay the certification process in such a way to allow more misinformation and cause chaos and confusion around elections,” she said. “That’s what this is all about. We need to make sure their ability to sow seeds of doubt is minimally successful.”
Benson is running for reelection to be the state’s top election official against Kristina Karamo, a Republican who has made unfounded theories about a stolen 2020 contest central to her campaign.
Just because candidates declined to confirm they will accept the results does not mean they will follow Trump’s lead and try to challenge them. Republicans seeking to curry favor with their party’s base may see a benefit in leaving the question open.
Don Bolduc, who won the Republican Senate primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday, ran as a far-right Trump allegiant who embraced the former president’s unfounded claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
During an August primary debate, when asked whether he could “conclusively say who won the 2020 election” the retired brigadier general pointed to an open letter he signed in 2021 that warned, among other things, that “election irregularities” in 2020 were ignored.
“I signed a letter with 120 other generals and admirals saying that Trump won the election, and, damn it, I stand by my letter,” he said. “I’m not switching horses, baby. This is it.”
But days after his win, Bolduc performed a dramatic about-face.
“I’ve done a lot of research on this, and I’ve spent the past couple weeks talking to Granite Staters all over the state from every party, and I have come to the conclusion — and I want to be definitive on this — the election was not stolen,” Bolduc said in an interview on Fox News.
“Elections have consequences, and, unfortunately, President Biden is the legitimate president of this country,” he said.
Bolduc’s campaign is among those that did not respond when asked whether he would accept the results of his own election. The Democratic incumbent, Sen. Maggie Hassan, said in an email that “yes,” she would accept the results of her election and “no,” there were no circumstances that would lead her not to.
More troubling to some democracy advocates than the prospect of election deniers losing and crying foul is what happens if some of them win.
Doug Mastriano, a state senator and the Republican nominee for Pennsylvania governor, led efforts to overturn the 2020 result in his state, organizing a public hearing to air baseless conspiracy theories about election fraud and attending the Jan. 6, 2021, rally at the Ellipse before marching toward the Capitol. Mastriano has said he respected police lines and that he and his wife departed when it became clear the event was no longer peaceful.
Mastriano did not respond to The Post’s survey, and he is widely expected to contest his own result if he does not win. But with a Democratic governor and secretary of state, his power to block certification would be minimal.
If Mastriano wins, however, he will have the power in future elections, notably the next presidential race in 2024, to make good on his promises to decertify voting machines when he believes results are rigged and to appoint a like-minded ally to be secretary of state, whose responsibilities include certifying election results.
His Democratic opponent, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, has made Mastriano’s election denialism a central argument against the Republican.
“Unlike my opponent, I believe the integrity of our elections must be protected and every eligible vote must be counted,” Shapiro said in an emailed statement. “I will continue working to protect every citizen’s vote — and of course, I will accept the results of the election once the votes are counted and the election is certified, as I always have.”
Matthew Brown in Atlanta and David Weigel in Washington contributed to this report.