In the last and final presidential debate, the two major party candidates were asked if they would accept the results of the election. One candidate’s answer has alarmed voters, election officials, and pundits across the nation, and has divided the party in Connecticut.
In answer to the question, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said he’s going to wait to see the results.
“I will look at it at the time,” Trump told Fox debate moderator Chris Wallace on Wednesday.
Pressed by Wallace for a more definitive answer, Trump said, “What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense. OK?”
Hillary Clinton called the comment “horrifying.”
Connecticut’s Democratic Party immediately released a statement from its executive director, Michael Mandell.
“This is absolutely unacceptable,” Mandell said. “This democracy is built on the peaceful transfer of power, but, for the first time in modern history, a presidential candidate has refused to accept the will of the voters.”
Mandell said Connecticut Republicans should be asked whether they will defend Trump’s position.
JR Romano, chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, asked if Mandell remembered the presidential contest in 2000 when Democratic candidate Al Gore fought the results of a close contest.
But it was more complicated than that. Gore withdrew his initial concession after Florida’s election night vote count showed that George W. Bush had won by just 1,784 votes — a margin small enough to trigger an automatic statewide machine recount. The Gore campaign also requested hand recounts in four counties, as was allowed by Florida law. But it was the Bush campaign that sued to stop the recount process.
The outcome was in doubt for 36 days following that election. The Florida Supreme Court issued a decision in favor of a recount but the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and issued a 5-4 decision in favor of Bush’s legal team, allowing the Florida results to stand in declaring Bush the winner by 537 votes. On Dec. 13, 2000, Gore appeared on national television and conceded the election.
“Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken,” Gore said in the six-minute address to the nation. “Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity of the people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.”
He went on to ask his supporters to unite behind Bush and help him fulfill his duty.
“While we yet hold and do not yield our opposing beliefs, there is a higher duty than the one we owe to political party,” Gore said. “This is America and we put country before party. We will stand together behind our new president.”
Fast forward to 2016. Even before his statements during Wednesday’s debate, Trump, on the campaign trail, had been suggesting that the only way he’d lose the election would be if the results were rigged in a massive conspiracy. The media, according to Trump, is involved in the conspiracy and has not been treating him fairly.
According to a Hearst survey of 63 Republican candidates for the Connecticut Legislature or Congress, 37 declined to answer “yes” or “no” when asked whether they support Trump for president, 21 said they continued to support their party’s candidate, and five said they did not support him.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said Trump should accept the results of the election as long as there is “nothing unorthodox about the results, like a recount.”
However, Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano — Klarides’ counterpart in the General Assembly — has taken a different approach, opting out of discussing the presidential election.
“Senator Fasano won’t be commenting on this,” Fasano’s spokesperson, Nicole Rall, said. “Senator Fasano has not endorsed Donald Trump and therefore does not comment on the statements he has made. His focus is on the issues in the Connecticut state elections.”
Asked about the integrity of the election system, Rall referred back to her initial statement.
As far as Trump’s statements that the election is “rigged,” U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said in a tweet Wednesday that he has confidence in our democracy and election system.
“During this debate Mr. Trump is doing the party and country a great disservice by continuing to suggest the outcome of this election is out of his hands and ‘rigged’ against him,” Graham said. “If he loses, it will not be because the system is ‘rigged’ but because he failed as a candidate.”
A recent nationwide Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found that 55 percent of likely Republican and independent voters believe the news media is biased against Trump. Seventy-seven percent of Democrats says that the media is not biased.
The poll also found 51 percent of Democratic and independent voters believe Trump assaulted several women, an allegation he denies. Fifty-six percent of Republicans don’t believe the assault allegations.
Assistant Quinnipiac University Poll Director Tim Malloy said even though American voters agree there is media bias against Trump, it doesn’t explain the “lackluster standing” with his core base.
The overall poll found Clinton leading Trump by seven points in a four-way race and six points in a two-way race.
“Media bias or not, Trump’s character issues have ominous implications,” Malloy said. “The consensus opinion is that Trump groped women and is neither fit enough nor a decent enough person to be president.”
A day after his comments during the debate, at a rally in Ohio on Thursday, Trump said he would accept the election results if he wins. Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway hit the talk shows Thursday to say he was putting the American public on notice about possible Election Day irregularities.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, who is president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, has said America’s election system is run by the states and is “extremely decentralized,” making it all but impossible for people to hack it or otherwise engage in widespread fraud.
As far as fraud is concerned, Merrill said the concern in Connecticut is whether people are appropriately filing absentee ballots. The law says a person must be absent from the state or unable to get to the polls from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 8 in order to qualify for an absentee ballot.
In 2003, former state Rep. Barnaby Horton of Hartford was charged with absentee voter fraud after he was caught inducing elderly voters to cast absentee ballots. He later pleaded guilty to felony charges of ballot fraud and paid a $10,000 fine to the State Elections Enforcement Commission. In 2013, Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford, lost her Superior Court appeal of a SEEC ruling that she was “knowingly present” when four voters fraudulently filled out absentee ballots at City Hall in 2006.
Then in 2015, former state Rep. Christina Ayala of Bridgeport agreed to a plea deal for voting in a series of elections in districts where she did not live.
Those are just three of the most recent examples of voter fraud cases in Connecticut.
“There’s virtually no in-person fraud where you see someone presenting a false ID,” Merrill has said.
She said over the past 20 years there was one incident of someone who attempted to vote impersonating someone else.
“The state of Connecticut goes through every precaution to ensure that elections are administered as freely and fairly as possible,” Merrill said Friday. “Any claim to the contrary is not just irresponsible, it is destructive to the fabric of our democracy. “
She said election officials are working hard to ensure everyone’s constitutional right to vote.
“Mistakes can be made and errors do occur. However, none of these alter the outcome of our elections,” Merrill continued. “At the end of a very long Election Day, it will be the voters who choose the next president of the United States.”