Guidelines for Declaring Victory, Conceding Defeat, and Requesting Recounts

Every election comes to an end.  One candidate and their supporters are overjoyed, all others are to various levels disappointed.

Life goes back to normal and the campaigning ceases until the next election.

At least that’s how it’s been for most of  American history.

In recent years something changed.

The close of the polls, the counting of the votes, and the release of the results no longer signal the end of too many races.

Candidates declare victory who didn’t win, refuse to concede their loss, and demand meritless recounts.

This behavior is immature and unprofessional.

Moreover, it is diametrically opposed to how a representative democracy functions.

Frankly, I’m sick of it and you should be too.

If you’re a good candidate honestly running to improve the quality of life in your community, you need to stand above such childish tactics.

If you don’t, you’re not a leader.  You’re part of the problem.

But if you’re on my website and reading this article, then there’s a good chance you are a good person who is running for office with the best of intentions.

And since that’s the case, here’s what you need to know about declaring victory, conceding defeat, and demanding recounts after an election.

Declaring Victory

Only declare victory and give a winning speech if you indeed win the election.

If you’re ahead in the early counts but there’s still plenty of ballots to be processed, do yourself a favor and hold off.

You want to make sure your lead is solid and that there’s no chance the results will flip as the count goes on.

It’s usually easy to tell who has won an election based off of the size of the lead in the initial ballot tallies.

But that’s not always the case.

This past Election Night I had a friend declare victory based on the first results.

I didn’t disagree with him as it appeared he had won handily.

Yet as the ballots continued to be counted his lead slipped away.

Now as more of the late mail-in and provisional ballots have been counted, it appears he will be defeated.

So if you’re going to declare victory, please don’t do so prematurely.

If you don’t, you could wind up embarrassing yourself, even if it happens accidentally.

Conceding Defeat

Yes, there’s a chance you’ll lose your election.

It hurts. It stings. It may make you numb with shock, but it does happen.

There’s only one winning candidate in a campaign.

Most of the candidates who run don’t get elected.

Should you come up short you have a responsibility to your community and our democratic norms to concede.

You don’t have to make a phone call conceding and congratulating your opponent.

But you definitely should.

I know you won’t want to – especially if the race got nasty – but you still should.

It demonstrates not only your personal maturity but your respect for the American electoral process.

And when you do, be clear that as painful as it is, you are conceding you lost the race.

Requesting Recounts

A lot of candidates who believe they lost a very close election have a difficult time believing they didn’t win and want to request a recount.

My advice most in most of these situations is simply this:  don’t.

Recounts very rarely overturn an election result.

While there may be issues with voting and some counting irregularities, it’s seldom enough to change the outcome.

In a race where hundreds of thousand of ballots were cast, I’d only advise a candidate to seek a recount if they lost by 100 votes or less.

In smaller contests where maybe there were a few thousand votes, if the count shows you lost by 2o votes or few, only then should you probably pursue a recount.

Requesting recounts when you know you’ve lost is a kissing cousin of refusing to concede a loss.

Yes, you want to hold on to the false hope that you didn’t lose your election.

But demands for recounts hinge on the notion that you don’t believe the counting of the ballots was handled properly, which again is an attack on representative democracy.

I’ve been involved in two recounts in my career.

One was a complete waste of time and resources.

Thousands of dollars were spent to make a lot of noise that didn’t reveal any over or under votes.

The person spearheading the recount simply wanted to make noise.

I didn’t want to be there, but had been paid to consult on the race so I had few options not to be there.

I regret ever taking on that campaign.

The other recount I was involved in was for the right reasons and did lead to a change – though not the one we truly sought.

The candidate here had lost a big race by only 72 votes and there were huge problems with ballot security surrounding the voting machines that were used.

In the end the recount showed the candidate had only lost by 35 votes and the voting machines in question were decertified by State of California.

While I was happy that the voting machines and their flaws were brought into the public spotlight, it still wasn’t enough to overturn the election results, which is the only reason to do a recount after all.

Oh, and a candidate when a claims an election was stolen or rigged, but does not pursue every avenue for a recount, it’s a dead give away that they are lying and their pride won’t allow them to accept defeat.

Candidate Take-Aways

When the Election is over, act like an adult.

If you won, declare victory, be thankful to all your supporters, and gracious to those you beat.

If you lose, concede your defeat, thank your supporters, and congratulate the candidate who won.

And if you’re thinking of requesting a recount in a very close race, be sure it’s actually close enough to change the result.

If it’s not, then your demands for a recount or any claims of a vote stealing will look like nothing more than sour grapes.