Will voters accept the 2020 election results?

The 2016 elections were memorable for many reasons. There was a great deal of drama surrounding the presidential debates, in no small part because there were many more candidates than usual, including new and old political figures. As nominees were declared and voters readied to cast their ballots in November, there was a sense of uncertainty. Many voters were afraid their vote wouldn't count, convinced there was a conspiracy against them. Political experts started to weigh in, proposing a hypothetical future where one of the candidates refused to accept the results of the election.

The Right to Recount

It might sound outlandish to imagine a candidate refusing to accept the results of an election, but it is not unheard of. There are countless examples of politicians asking for a recount before they concede defeat. While it is mostly reserved for smaller elections, where the limited pool of voters naturally makes the race much tighter, it has happened in larger elections as well. Most famously, Al Gore asked for a recount in Florida when George Bush was declared winner. Gore ultimately conceded the race after the election was again called in favor of Bush. Gore supporters were unhappy with the result, arguing the election was rigged as Gore had won the popular vote, so in their mind, he deserved to be President. Nevertheless, they begrudgingly accepted the results of the election.

Repeating History

A similar situation happened in 2016, but there were a few notable differences. In 2000, Gore and his followers had never expressed distrust in the system. In 2016, months before the elections were even slated to begin, Donald Trump publicly aired his grievances with the voting system. He insisted the process was rigged against him. His loyal base echoed these sentiments, and even though no votes had been cast, there was a growing conspiracy of voter fraud.

Part of the frustration had to do with the polling, which skewed heavily in favor of Hillary Clinton. Supporters of Donald Trump felt these polls were diminishing their voice and attempting to manipulate the election in favor of Clinton. They believed Republican voters who saw the polls would be less likely to cast a vote, since it seemed like the election was already settled.

Despite the fears of a rigged race, Donald Trump won the election. Like President Bush before him, he won the electoral vote while narrowly losing the popular vote. As usual, there was a peaceful transition of power, and Donald Trump became the 45th president.

The Fear of Voter Fraud

Even though the 2016 election proceeded as normal, President Trump continued to speak out against the system, insisting there were millions of votes illegally cast. Once again, his supporters believed these claims. It was not only Trump supporters who questioned the legitimacy of the race. Many Democratic voters believed the election was tainted in some fashion, believing victory was stolen away from them by an outside influence.

Whenever the prospect of voter fraud is brought up, political experts are quick to offer their opinions, backed up with years of extensive research on the subject. Historically speaking, there are few recorded cases of voter fraud. In most cases, supposed cases of voter fraud are nothing more than mistakes made by voters or political administrators. The United States has many systems and safeguards in place to catch these errors and correct them before an election is called.

In the 2016 elections, over 135 million voters went to the polls or mailed in ballots declaring who they wanted to lead the country. Of all those votes, there were only four instances of voter fraud. Two cases were from voters who tried to cast two ballots at different polling stations. There was another example of a woman in Illinois using the ballot of her deceased husband, who had previously applied for an absentee ballot, to cast an additional vote. The most serious case was in Florida, where an election official was caught filling in the bubble on absentee ballots for a mayoral candidate, though after an investigation, it was determined she had no changed any of the presidential votes.

Heading into 2020

Political experts agree there was no sabotage on either side of the political spectrum in 2016. Even with only four reported instances of voter fraud, voters are less confident than ever in the system heading into the2020 elections. Some uncertainty has to do with the voting landscape changing because of Covid-19. Many states are considering voting entirely by mail to support social distancing. Once again, President Trump has called foul, insisting absentee ballots are subject to voter fraud, believing his political enemies are pushing for absentee ballots to undermine the election.

While it is true absentee ballots have more security risks than traditional ballots, it is not as dire as the President insists. In fact, there are several states which have conducted elections entirely by mail for years without any issue.

There is a great deal of debate over whether the candidates and their voters will accept the 2020 election results. As in 2016, many are imagining a future where a candidate refuses to accept defeat, speculating on what would happen as a result. Despite a growing distrust in the system, it seems unlikely any candidate would deny the results of the election. History has shown that, even in contentious and tight races, the loser has ultimately conceded defeat and accepted the results of the election. At worse, the election results may be held up if a recount is demanded in the battleground states.

It is highly likely the voters of the defeated candidate will complain about rigged polls or insist the process was broken, but this is often nothing more than a coping mechanism. Some voters may even insist the winner is not truly the President in their eyes, which is not unusual after an election, but it does not change the results of the vote.