Donald Trump said during Wednesday night’s debate that he couldn’t guarantee that he will accept the results of the November 8 election, but would have to “look at it at the time.” Trump has repeatedly warned in recent months that the election will be “rigged” and added on Thursday that he’ll accept the results “if I win.”
While close elections have led to court battles and recounts, once the results have been finalized, no presidential candidate in U.S. history has contested the result.
But if a candidate on either side believes that the election results aren’t legitimate, what can they do about it?
They have to go to the states
CNN’s Steve Vladeck, who is also a professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law, broke down how to contest an election on Thursday. As Vladeck notes, a presidential candidate cannot contest the results of an election at the national level, they have to go state-by-state. That’s because the electoral system in this country is largely left up to the states and controlled by local secretaries of state and other elections officials.
Any question about the validity of election results would have to be run through state courts, individually for any area where the results are questioned. Potentially, these fights could make their way all the way up to the state supreme court.
But Vladeck points out that these cases are unlikely to make it to SCOTUS. The Supreme Court’s intervention in the 2000 election was highly unusual and it was based on the Court’s feeling “that the unique manner in which the Florida state courts had ordered a manual recount violated the U.S. Constitution.” The public wasn’t a huge fan of SCOTUS getting involved in that case, Vladeck writes, and given that the Court is one-justice short it’s “highly unlikely” that they’ll get involved in the 2016 election.