Failure to Concede Can Backfire

It seems to me that once an election is over, it is impossible to change the outcome. But that doesn't seem to deter candidates from trying ...In Nevada, anti-tax Assemblywoman Sharron Angle is threatening to challenge the results of her narrow defeat in a Republican Congressional Primary. According to news reports, her goal is to get a revote (in fairness, there were reportedly plenty of irregularities).

The AP quotes Angle as saying: "Out of respect for the will of the people and their right to vote, I am obligated to contest the outcome of this election and request a special election." But is she? Donors and supporters put their time, sweat, and tears into a political campaign, so a candidate owes it to them to campaign hard. But the problem is that elections are almost never overthrown, and "re-votes" almost never happen. Unfortunately, what does happen, is that the candidate who contests an election often comes out looking like a sore loser. That's what I'm afraid of ...

In 1994, Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey contested her bitter, narrow defeat until three days before her opponent was inaugurated. Do I believe the election was stolen from her? Yes. But did contesting the election help? Well, according to a Washington Post poll, many voters held it against her when she ran again in '98:

"One-third of likely voters polled by The Washington Post recently said they thought Sauerbrey did not conduct herself well in the 1994 election, and even some of her supporters say her failure to concede earlier represented a lapse that has burdened this year's campaign."

Of course, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) is the other example. In 2002, he lost a close election to Sen. Tim Johnson (there were many improprieties). Thune didn't challenge the results, and went on to defeat Sen. Tom Daschle, just two years later (reputation intact).

The problem is that elections are rarely retroactively overthrown. If voter fraud (or an irregularity) happens, the only way to stop it is to catch it while it is happening. You must immediately have your lawyer file an injunction -- go before a judge -- and have the authorities take over the administration of the election.

But, as Washington State gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi (who clearly had an election stolen from him) found out, once an election is over ... it's over.

I have no reason to doubt Angle's assertions -- that irregularities did occur. But I would rather see her live to fight another day, than go down tilting at windmills. Please note: I am not challenging the right to concede an election, but based on history, I am merely challenging the political wisdom of doing so. My worry is that by challenging the election results -- especially in a Primary -- Angle may be setting herself up to be labeled a sore loser, man.