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Why it's news when candidates agree to honor election results

"Will you accept election results?" has become an important question voters need to hear the answer to, and which major newspapers feel the need to note.
Glenn Youngkin makes his closing remarks during a GOP gubernatorial candidate forum in Lynchburg, Va., on April 19, 2021.
Glenn Youngkin makes his closing remarks during a GOP gubernatorial candidate forum in Lynchburg, Va., on April 19, 2021.Kendall Warner / The News and Advance via AP file

During the fight for Virginia's Republican gubernatorial nomination, Glenn Youngkin discovered what GOP voters wanted to hear: election conspiracy theories and skepticism about the integrity of elections.

As regular readers may recall, the former private equity executive launching his first bid for elected office, willingly played along. For example, when Youngkin was asked about the far-right's bizarre ideas about Dominion voting machines, the Republican described this as "the most important issue" of the campaign. Asked about the legitimacy of President Joe Biden's victory, Youngkin wouldn't give a straight answer.

At one point, Youngkin's plan for a "task force" to tackle "election integrity" was his campaign's only meaningful policy proposal.

As the commonwealth shifted to the general election, the GOP nominee tried to sound a bit more reasonable on the issue, and during last night's debate in Virginia – the first one-on-one event between Youngkin and former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe – the Republican conceded that there has not been "significant fraud in Virginia elections" and he does not agree with Donald Trump's claim that Democrats would cheat in the upcoming election.

In its report on the debate, The Washington Post added this seemingly unimportant detail:

Both men also pledged that if they ultimately lost this year's election, they would accept the results and recognize the other's victory.

To be sure, the answers were reassuring, and I'm glad both McAuliffe and Youngkin responded the correct way. What I found extraordinary was the fact that the question was even asked.

I've been a political observer for quite a while, and I couldn't count how many debates I've watched over the years. But over this period, moderators and candidates haven't traditionally had to explore whether those vying for powerful offices were prepared to honor election results. It was simply assumed that in the United States, basic norms of our democracy dictated that candidates accepted voters' verdict.

But in 2021, that assumption has largely evaporated as much of the Republican Party questions democracy in ways without modern precedent. All of a sudden, "Will you accept election results?" is an important question voters need to hear the answer to, and which major newspapers feel the need to report.