As the 2020 presidential race concludes, it marks the 20-year anniversary of the most controversial election in American history — the results of which are relevant today.
The 2000 general election pitted Democratic nominee Al Gore against Republican counterpart George W. Bush. Gore was the vice president of the United States, while Bush served as the governor of Texas.
Although pollsters predicted a close contest, no one was prepared for what unfolded.
Early on election night, the nation’s media outlets declared Gore the winner of Florida. However, they quickly retracted their projection and deemed the state too close to call. Several hours later, Bush was proclaimed the winner of Florida and the presidency.
Upon the announcement, Gore called Bush to congratulate him. But when reports surfaced that Florida’s counts were close enough to trigger a mandatory statewide recount, Gore rescinded his concession. And Florida became the ultimate battleground for the White House.
The terms of engagement in Florida were skewed. Florida’s Governor, Jeb Bush, was the brother of George W. Bush. Further complicating matters was the fact that Florida’s Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who was responsible for overseeing the election process, was also the co-chair of George W. Bush’s presidential election committee.
Despite these conflicting interests, the recount ensued. As reported by journalist Samantha Levine, “news outlets carried images of Florida election officials staring at hanging chads on Florida’s punch-card ballots, trying to ‘discern the intent’ of the voters.”
Chads were impressions on ballots that were punched to cast a vote. Because many of the chads were not clearly marked and originated from democratic leaning counties, the validity of the ballots was challenged by the Bush campaign.
After Gore won a series of legal victories in the Florida Supreme Court, the United States Supreme Court intervened and suspended all counting in the state.
In a 5-4 ruling, the nation’s highest court permanently ended the recount on the grounds that insufficient time existed to establish consistent counting standards throughout Florida.
So 36 days after the election occurred, Bush officially won.
In the end, over five million ballots were cast in Florida with Bush taking the state by just 537 votes. And despite winning the national popular vote, Gore lost the Electoral College by a tally of 271-266.
What happened in the 2000 general election is a cautionary tale. As we brace for the results of the 2020 election, Pennsylvania is in a precarious position. With both parties already fighting over mail-in ballots, the possibility of history repeating exists.
For the sake of our democracy, let’s hope the presidency is decided by the people and not the courts.