So what really happens if Donald Trump refuses to concede the election if he loses to Hillary Clinton? Probably nothing legally, election experts say. Though considered an essential act to foster a peaceful post-election political transition of power, concessions by losing candidates are a formality – not a legal requirement. “Just saying the words ‘I concede’ have no legal effect,” said Richard Hasen, founding co-editor of the Election Journal and author of the Election Law Blog. “What would have a legal effect is if he filed for a recount or do some sort of election contest. In short, we don’t have a constitutional crisis on our hands if we don’t have a gracious concession on election night, even if the result appears a blowout,” Edward “Ned” Foley, author of “Ballot Battles: The History of Disputed Elections in the United States,” wrote on his blog last Friday.
Still, Trump laying out the possibility of not accepting the results is unnerving, Hasen and other election analysts said, because it threatens a smooth transition and could help delegitimize a Clinton presidency in the eyes of Trump’s ardent followers. “One of the hallmarks of our democracy is the peaceful transition of power, the idea that the candidates agree that the loser will recognize the winner as the legitimate person who has been given the public trust,” Hasen said.
… Forty-three states allow losing candidates or interested parties to petition for recounts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Twenty states – including Florida, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas – provide for automatic recounts. The states with automatic recount have different criteria: In some the candidates have to be tied; others require that the margin between the candidates be within a certain range, such as less than 1 percent of the votes cast.
“If they can either trigger recounts or if they allege legitimate violations under state law and the federal Constitution, which is very hard to do, they are free to bring lawsuits,” said Tom Donnelly, a constitution scholar at the National Constitution Center. “But it’s a matter of tradition that, especially once the legal process has run its course, that folks end up conceding.” And if they don’t concede, they are free to publicly protest the results, “as long as they don’t incite violence,” Donnelly said.