In the third and final presidential debate, Donald Trump refused to say that he would accept results of the election if he does not win. In his typical reality TV style, he stated, “I will keep you in suspense, OK?”
Actually, no, it is not OK. If there is one thing that our country is good at, it is the peaceful transition of power. Presidential campaigns are hard fought. But when they are over, they are over.
Trump’s allegations of “election rigging” are nothing more than baseless scare tactics to dissuade people who wish to vote for Hillary Clinton. It is unprecedented in American history that prior to the election a major party nominee would not pledge to acknowledge the electoral results certified by the states.
Some of Trump’s defenders have pointed to the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore as evidence that there is nothing new, dangerous, or to use Clinton’s word, “horrifying,” about contesting an election.
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That is simply not true.
It is important to remember how and why the litigation in the 2000 presidential election began. First, the margin of victory for Bush was so small that Florida law dictated an automatic recount of the votes. After the recount, Bush’s margin of victory shrunk to 327 votes.
At that point Gore asked for a manual recount in certain heavily Democratic counties, as was his right under Florida law. Florida’s Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, then certified the election results before that manual recount – when officials looked for the infamous hanging chads – was complete.
That led to a lawsuit over when Harris had to certify the results and how long she could wait to accept the results of the manual recount. Ultimately the case ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court, and in a 5-4 ruling, the justices halted the manual recount.
Gore’s suit involved the process of certifying election results in a close election. He didn’t challenge the validity of having that process. He never said prior to the election that he would not accept the results. Gore never said during the litigation that he would not accept the various court decisions. Instead, Gore ceased his appeals and conceded with dignity, even when he could have pressed his legal case further.
Gore ultimately trusted and showed respect for our electoral system. He worked within the system to ensure, to the best of his abilities, that the votes were counted.
Trump distrusts and shows no respect for our electoral system. He continues to assert that the system is “rigged” against him, despite having no evidence.
Trump will succeed if he scares voters into staying home on Nov. 8. His refusal to accept the electoral process exposes him and his campaign for the sham that it is. Donald Trump is no Al Gore.
Jessica A. Levinson is a professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, and president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission. She can be contacted at Jessica.Levinson@lls.edu.