Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden pledged Tuesday night to accept the outcome of the election, while President Donald Trump urged his supporters to “watch very carefully” what happens as voters cast their general-election ballots.
Those comments were in response to a question during the first presidential debate from debate moderator and Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, who asked the two men whether they would signal they trust the electoral process by urging supporters to calmly accept the results and not declaring victory until the final tally is certified.
“Once the winner is declared after all the ballots are counted, all the votes are counted, that will be the end of it,” Biden said. “And if it’s me in fact, fine. If it’s not me, I’ll support the outcome.”
Trump did not make a similar promise, instead saying he hopes it will be a “fair election” but directing those who support him to watch for evidence of fraud or misconduct.
“I am urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen. I am urging them to do it,” Trump said, adding: “I hope it’s going to be a fair election. … But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.”
He specifically criticized election officials in Philadelphia, who Trump said were preventing poll workers from witnessing ballots being cast at satellite election offices in the heavily Democratic city on Tuesday.
Those early-voting sites are treated differently than traditional polling places, and poll watchers don’t have the same rights in those locations, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The exchange over accepting the election results came amid rising concerns about the security and accuracy of this year’s election, heightened not just by continued public remarks from intelligence officials about the potential for foreign meddling, but also Trump’s efforts to cast doubt about the legitimacy of voting by mail.
To bolster his argument against mail voting, Trump in the debate pointed to nine ballots found discarded in a northeastern Pennsylvania county election office, where officials say the ballots were inadvertently opened early because the envelopes are similar to those for absentee ballot requests. Those ballots were found in a trash can, and a temporary employee hired for election-related tasks has been fired.
Trump also criticized court rulings that allow ballots to be counted if they are sent by Election Day but not received until a set number of days afterward.
Biden defended mail balloting as safe, secure, necessary amid the coronavirus pandemic — and a practice that Trump also uses to cast his vote.
In Florida, voters can cast mail-in ballots for any reason and the state GOP has heavily promoted the practice to boost its candidates.
“The fact is, there are going to be millions of people because of COVID that are going to be voting by mail-in ballots like he does,” Biden said, referring to Trump voting by a Florida absentee ballot.
A record-setting number of voters are expected to cast their ballot this year without entering a polling place, with more than 71 million ballots already requested or sent to voters so far, according to The New York Times.
The debate at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic was the first of three in advance of the Nov. 3 election. The next debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris will be Oct. 7.
Deputy Editor Michael Moline in Tallahassee contributed to this story.