How the 2000 Election Results Came Down to a Supreme Court Decision
Five hundred and thirty-seven votes.
That’s all that separated Democrat Al Gore and his Republican challenger George W. Bush when, on November 26, 2000, three weeks after polling day, the state of Florida declared Bush the winner of his 25 electoral votes in the race. as President of the United States.
After a crazy election night on November 7, 2000, in which TV stations first called the key state of Florida for Gore, then for Bush, followed by a Gore concession that was soon canceled, the results for who would be the country’s 43rd president were just too close to call.
Within 36 days, Americans learned that Gore had won the popular vote by 543,895 votes. But it’s winning the electoral college that counts. As accusations of voter fraud and suppression, calls for recounts and lawsuits have grown, the terms “chads hanging”, “dimpled chad” and “pregnant chad” have become part of the lexicon.
Andrew E. Busch, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and co-author of The Perfect Connection: The True Story of the 2000 Presidential Election, said as the votes were counted and Bush’s lead increased, the TV stations withdrew their premature appeal from Gore, giving Bush the state instead.
“When the lead dwindled to about 2,000 votes in the early hours of the morning, the television backtracked again, canceled the appeal to Bush and said Florida was not yet determined,” says -he. “The initial problem was the failure of exit polls, for which they then overcompensated.”
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Too close to call
The result of the 2000 presidential election that ended with such a close appeal came as no huge surprise: according to The perfect tie, the Gallup follow-up poll showed nine head changes during the fall campaign, with Bush holding a slight lead in the final week of the campaign, and Gore gaining momentum on election day.
As it became clear that the final vote in Florida, which would decide the election, was essentially a tie, Gore rescinded his concession during a phone call. Bush, according to The New York TimesAsked: “You mean to tell me, Mr. Vice-President, that you are withdrawing your concession? This was followed by Gore’s response, “You don’t have to be snippy about this,” and, “” Let me explain something to you. Your younger brother is not the ultimate authority on this matter. ”
Gore was referring to the fact that the governor of Florida at the time was Jeb Bush, Bush’s younger brother. Fan the fire even more: Katherine Harris, Florida Secretary of State, responsible for overseeing an impartial election, was a Republican who served as co-chair of Bush’s Presidential Election Committee in Florida.
“When an election is so close and so closely fought, you should expect a recount along those time frames,” says Rick Hasen, professor of law and political science at the University of California at Irvine and author of The Vote Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Merger. “The Franken-Coleman recount of the 2008 Minnesota Senate race took nearly nine months to be fully resolved. But for a presidential election, we need the finality much earlier, which makes everything more difficult.
Busch says local or state-level narratives are not uncommon, but an event like this, at the presidential level, had not happened for some time.
“In 1876 there was a much bigger dispute,” he says, referring to the election in which Republican Rutherford B. Hayes finally became president after none of the main party candidates had won. got enough electoral votes to win without 20 contested voters. A deadlock in Congress led to the creation of a commission that controversially assigned the 20 contested voters to Hayes.
“There were a lot of maneuvers, but not the same scenario,” says Hasen. “Florida in 2000 took so long due to multiple court challenges, shutdowns and the start of the over-the-top recount.
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The Florida recount and the hanging of Chads
Over the next several weeks, with no winner yet determined, officials conducted an electronic recount, in which the ballots were fed back into the same machines, but Gore requested a manual recount. “There was a lot of wrangling over when, how and whether to write such manual narratives,” said The war of votes. “A law firm alone ultimately handled forty election lawsuits for the Florida Secretary of State.”
The newsletters themselves have become a matter of contention. The confusing perforated paper “butterfly ballot”, in which two columns of candidate names were separated by a middle column with punch marks, has been blamed for some of Gore’s votes awarded to Pat Buchanan in due to misalignment of names and brands.
And then some of these marks weren’t properly drilled.
“Some counties in Florida used a card punch system to vote,” Busch says. “Voters would receive a card with small perforated squares lined up with names on the ballot. They would position a card puncher over the square belonging to the candidate they wanted and push it through the square, creating a hole that would be read by a vote counting machine. The little square that is supposed to be eliminated is called the ‘chad’. “
In question: some holes were not completely drilled in the ballots. “A chad that was not completely struck – that is, one that was still suspended by one, two or even three corners of the ballot – was called a ‘suspended chad,’” Busch said. “Election officials had to devise standards for counting ballots with chads suspended. Do you consider that to be a valid vote as long as there is evidence that a voter attempted to vote? Do you only count this if three of the four corners are eliminated? Something in between? No consistent standard was developed which was a key issue Bush vs. Gore. ”
After lawsuits, challenges and debriefs, the Florida Supreme Court ordered a recount of sub-scores in Florida’s 67 counties, which was quickly appealed by Bush, and the case has been taken to the Supreme Court of the United States.
The Supreme Court ruling: Bush v. Gore
According to Busch, the Supreme Court had telegraphed its dissatisfaction with the way things were going in Florida a week or so ago by returning Bush’s first plea to the Florida Supreme Court with a 9-0 vote, ” basically saying, ‘We’d rather not get involved, but you’re messing this up. Fix it. ‘”
The Florida Supreme Court ignored the warning signal and called for a recount, and the case was referred to the United States Supreme Court. The case, according to Hasen’s book, put the Florida election under a microscope, examining electoral machinery, voter lists, vote counting rules, poorly drafted state election statutes, election officials supporters and the role of the courts.
“At that point, there were actually two key votes,” Hasen says. “The first was a 7-2 ruling that the Florida recount, as it was underway, was unconstitutional on the grounds that there were no clear standards that were applied consistently to all ballots to vote. Then, by a vote of 5 to 4, the court declared that the time had elapsed to devise a cure. It stopped the process, with Bush in the lead.
The decision resulted in one of the most controversial Supreme Court decisions in American history. With the victory in Florida, Bush led Gore in the national electoral votes 271-266, and, out of legal options, Gore conceded.
“The court split along ideological lines with the Conservatives supporting Bush, the most conservative candidate, and the Liberals supporting Gore, the more liberal candidate,” Hasen said. “The case presented difficult questions about the court’s intervention in a process that both sides believed was tainted with politics on the opposite side.”
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With this decision, Bush became the first president since Benjamin Harrison, in 1888, to lose the popular vote but to win the general election. No wonder Democrats were unhappy with the results, Busch notes, while Republicans were happy and relieved.
“I think the independents were generally relieved that the partisan bickering was over,” he says. “Overall, about 80% of survey respondents told Gallup that they accepted the results as legitimate.”
One bottom line: the candidates learned not to concede too early, Busch adds. “One of Gore’s political problems over the five weeks was that he had conceded Bush and then pulled his concession, so he was widely seen as a sore loser,” he says. “Since 2000, both sides have maintained a team of lawyers ready to invade the next Florida at any time.”
The 2000 election conflict also contributed to the growing polarization of US politics, according to Busch. “Democrats saw Bush as a president who sneaked in thanks to the good graces of the Supreme Court, and Republicans saw Gore and Democrats as people who would change the rules in the middle of the game just to hold onto power,” he said.
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