The concession speech has become a tradition in American politics. When the votes are in and a candidate knows they’re going to lose, they often take the stage one last time to thank supporters, congratulate their opponent and reiterate the values they ran on.
Losing candidates don’t always give concession speeches. Some concede privately to their opponent over the phone. Some, controversially, choose not to concede at all.
But it’s common for concession speeches to be issued on election night, even before all the votes have been tallied. VERIFY viewer Earl wanted to know, once the concession is issued, is that officially a wrap on the election? Or could a candidate who conceded go on to win an election, if the votes shake out in their favor?
Could a candidate who concedes still win an election?
- John Vile, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Political Science at Middle Tennessee State University
- State elections laws (examples: Washington, Florida)
Yes, a candidate who concedes could still theoretically win an election. The concession speech is not legally binding and doesn’t impact the final vote tally.
WHAT WE FOUND
For many races, projected winners and losers can be calculated well before every ballot has been counted. It’s usually once news agencies make those projections that losing candidates decide to concede – commonly on election night or the days immediately after.
But the results used to make those projections are unofficial. Results don’t become official until county and state offices go through a lengthy certification checklist where they ensure no ballots were missed and no errors were made.
State elections law requires that every vote gets counted for every election. Nothing stops that process, including a concession speech.
“[A concession] is not required by law. It doesn't affect the outcome an iota,” said John Vile, a political scientist at Middle Tennessee State University.
Concessions are essentially an optional formality, not a legally binding action.
“It's sort of like the custom of shaking hands with somebody,” said Vile. “No law requires it. But it sort of eases social political discourse and good feelings.”
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There are instances in the past of candidates actually un-conceding after initially throwing in the towel.
Most famously, then-Vice President and Democratic nominee Al Gore conceded to then-Gov. George W. Bush on election night of 2000. When the results in Florida tightened, Gore took it back. Then, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bush during the Florida recount, Gore re-conceded.
A similar series of events happened in the 2018 governor’s race in Florida. Democrat Andrew Gillum conceded, un-conceded, and conceded again to Republican Ron DeSantis.
We couldn’t find any instances of candidates conceding, un-conceding, and then ultimately winning their race. But, nothing in the law would prevent that from happening in theory.
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