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All Votes Must Be Counted, or Why Concessions of Electoral Defeat Are Irrelevant

Republicans are now very angry that some races they thought they had won are still too close to call. Being egged on by aspirational fascist demagogues like Donald Trump and Rick Scott, they are now condemning Democrats for disturbing the electoral process. “Enemies of the people” and “unethical liberals” we are. A veritable mob. Given the demonstrated commitment of the Republican party to voter suppression by all means possible, these condemnations are perverse. But they derive some traction from the fact that they also seem common sensical. Are numerous vote counts and recounts really necessary? Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis and Brian Kemp seem to have won more votes. Election Day has passed. Why not just be “civil,” and move on?

And so Stacey Abrams is being called upon to concede defeat. And Andrew Gillum is being called upon to let this go because he already conceded defeat.

We’ve been here before. In 2000 Al Gore conceded the election fairly quickly—too quickly—and then when it became clear that recounts were necessary in Florida, he was condemned for going back on his word. Sore loser!

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter legally what Andrew Gillum or Stacey Abrams or Al Gore or Rick Scott say. At all. Concessions, and concession speeches, are gestures of “civility” that may or may not be appropriate at the end of a hard-fought electoral campaign (and can you imagine Trump everoffering such a gesture? Hopefully we will see soon enough . . . ). Such concessions might even express the sincere beliefs of those who concede. There can be no doubt, for example, then when Andrew Gillum conceded on Tuesday night, he did so because he believed that he had lost and he wished to be gracious in defeat. But what determines the winners and losers of elections are the votes that were cast, and not the declarations of victory or defeat by the contestants .

When Gore conceded and then called for recounts, he was loudly condemned for being unfair to George W. Bush. Gore conceded defeat, and declared Bush the winner, and then he changed his mind. Poor Bush. Well, maybe. But it is not the feelings of Bush or Gore that were at stake in the election. It was the future of our democratic politics. The same is true right now in Florida, Georgia, and Arizona. The travails or expectations or kindnesses of Abrams or Kemp or Scott or Nelson are beside the point. What matters is who got the most votes. And it is the voters, and the citizenry more generally, who are owed a fair and honest accounting of the votes. Rick Scott or Brian Kemp or Ron DeSantis are owed nothing more. If when the votes are properly counted by duly authorized election officials according to fair and public procedures, and if it is determined that they have the most votes, then they deserve to be named the winners of their races. But until then, they deserve nothing. And everyone who claims that they are deserved anything are in fact denying the voters what they deserve: a legitimate democratic outcome.

The demand for a quick end to the counting is a tried and true practice for the Republican party, which has long sought to win elections by any means necessary. In the age of Trump this demand is taking an even nastier and more dangerous form. But the bottom line is simple: democracy requires an honest tabulation of the votes and a counting of the votes according to duly established procedures. And the American citizenry deserves nothing less. American democracy is profoundly flawed. But it is the only democracy we currently have, and it is better than the authoritarian alternative that Republican leaders apparently dream of.

We must insist that all the votes be properly counted.

And then we must turn to an even more important task: making sure that all citizens who wish to vote are allowed to do so. Period. The suppression of votes, and of voters, must be ended.

Democracy. Now.

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Jeffrey C. Isaac

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