The Election of 2000 – The U.S. Constitution Online – USConstitution.net

The Election of 2000


History in the making – that’s what they called the election of 2000, but
not until after the election should have been over. A month after Election
Day, the United States was still unsure about who its next President would

Table of Contents

The Candidates

Vice President Al Gore and Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman headed the
Democratic ticket. Texas Governor George Bush and former Secretary of Defense
Dick Cheney headed the Republican ticket. For weeks before the election, polls
showed Gore and Bush running neck and neck, too close to call nationally and in
many states. Add to the mix the popularity of Green Party candidate Ralph
Nader and a handful of other third-party candidates, such as the Reform Party’s
Pat Buchanan, the results from election night promised to be very
interesting. And they were.

The Dates

In 2000, Election Day fell on Tuesday, November 7, 2000. Electors must have
been appointed by December 12, 2000. Electoral College Day was Monday,
December 18. The deadline for receipt of the electoral votes by the President
of the Senate was Wednesday, December 27, 2000. Congress convened on Wednesday,
January 3, 2001. The electoral votes were counted in a joint session of
Congress on January 6, 2001. Inauguration Day was Saturday, January 20,

Election Night

The networks were chomping at the bit to be the first out of the starting
gate, and when 7 pm Eastern time rolled by, they were ready to start making
predictions. Vermont was an easy pick, with exit polls showing the state
firmly in Gore’s camp. Other states quickly fall into one camp or the other,
including Florida into Gore’s column. The networks had vowed, as in the past,
not to call an election until all of the polls in a certain state had all
closed – one problem in Florida is that part of the panhandle is in the Central
time zone, and when Florida was called, some polls were still open.

Bush pulled out with an early lead, but with just a handful of states
accounted for even a 40 point deficit was nothing for Gore to be worried about.
As the night wore on, the networks began to hedge on Florida – though polling
data showed Gore with the lead there, actual returns were starting to look
to be more in Bush’s favor. By 10 o’clock, most of the networks had taken
Florida out of Gore’s column and placed it back into the undecided column.

For several hours, as more and more states came in and more and more
projections were made, Bush and Gore swapped the lead, finally settling on a
242-242 electoral vote tie. This projection was made in the late hours of the
evening … and in the wee hours of the morning, returns from now-crucial
Florida, with its 25 votes, began to swing in Bush’s favor. Many networks call
Florida for Bush and are able to declare him the winner at 2:15 a.m. Ready to
concede to Bush, Gore placed a call. In the later words of Barbara Bush, “I
was the mother of a President for about 30 minutes.” Before Gore could give
his concession speech, his advisors watched the web site for the Florida Board
of Elections and watched as Bush’s lead waned, at one point down to only 200
votes. His advisors told him that it was too close, and Gore had to call Bush
to retract his concession. The networks flip-flopped again, taking Florida out
of Bush’s column and placing it back into the undecided group.

Bush had a lead of about 1700 votes in Florida, out of almost 6 million
cast. Florida law demands a recount in such a close count, and as if the week
decided it could not be outdone by the night, the wheels are set in motion for
an electoral horse race.

The Day After

With a recount triggered, the nation waited. With a margin of
victory of only 1700 votes, anything could happen. Things that usually are not
relevant to victory suddenly became so. Overseas absentee ballots are a
perfect example. Florida, by law, did not finish counting them until November
17. With several thousand ballots sent out, and more coming back all the time,
they could make for a decisive win one way or the other. Different balloting
methods were examined and called into question, including one done by punching
perforated holes out of ballot cards. This so-called butterfly ballot design
was the source of complaints by many, mostly seniors, that the ballot was
confusing and charges that the design caused an abnormally high number of votes
for Buchanan in one county the ballot was used. Calls for a re-vote in one
populous county were eventually denied on November 20th.

Quick recounts were done immediately following Election Day, and in doing so
the final vote tally changed from a margin if over 1700 votes for Bush to one
of just over 300 votes. In Palm Beach county, 19,000 ballots were found to be
spoiled and were discarded. More Floridians began to demand a re-vote,
something unprecedented in electoral history, and all eventually denied. The
Gore campaign started to issue calls for, and eventually court hearings
demanding, a manual recount of votes.

Meanwhile, with the outcome of Florida uncertain, other states start to show
signs of trouble. In New Mexico, Gore had an early lead, but a programming
error was found that pushed Bush into the lead. His lead was so slim as to
trigger a recount. During recounts, as few as four votes separated them,
before another error was found that gave Gore a 500 vote advantage. In Oregon,
which uses a mail-in ballot only, delays in counting votes caused the election
returns to be delayed, though Gore maintained a more sizeable lead (though
still “slim”: 5000 votes out of 1.4 million). Both camps began to eye close
races in other states, to see if recounts might be warranted. Neither New
Mexico nor Oregon alone or combined would win the election for either man, but
some other combination of states could.

The Florida Controversies

On November 14, 2000, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris was handed
a court ruling that upheld her order that all counties in Florida must have
certified election returns in to her office by 5:00 pm on that day (by Florida
statute, one week following the election). The judge did specifically say,
however, that the Secretary may not summarily dismiss amended returns that were
sent in after the deadline. In the certified returns, Bush held a 300-vote
lead. On the 15th, several counties decided to proceed with recounts, trying
to beat the November 17th deadline for overseas absentee ballots. Heavy
hitters from both parties were out in force in Florida, with former US
Secretary of State Warren Christopher heading the Gore team, and former US
Secretary of State James Baker heading the Bush team.

Ten days after the election, the controversy swirled around two key
questions in Florida. First, was it legal for some counties to do a manual
recount of ballots? And second, was it legal for the Florida Secretary of
State to reject the recount numbers after the statutory deadline had passed.
Several counties were counting ballots by hand, bolstered by a terse ruling
from the Florida Supreme Court that said they could continue, though the ruling
spoke nothing of the second point. Lawyers for the Bush campaign tried to stop
all hand recounts, saying that hand recounting is inherently error-prone and
subject to bias. The Gore camp argued that hand counts has been used for
centuries and that the only way to instill faith in the election outcome was to
resolve nagging count concerns.

Though the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the Florida vote could not be
certified until after it had heard arguments from both sides, pushing the
deadline to no earlier than the 20th of November, the counting of overseas
absentee ballots went ahead as planned. The reported results were highly in
Bush’s favor, giving him an eventual state-wide lead of 930 votes. Legal
wrangling continued through the end of the week, with most court rulings
pointing toward allowing manual recounts of ballots. Democrats said that the
process provided the most accurate way of counting, where the Republicans
countered that hand counting was fraught with human error or deliberate
tampering. Over the weekend, with the state Supreme Court’s ruling to back
them, several counties proceeded with a manual recount.

The Florida Supreme Court

The Florida Supreme Court heard two and a half hours of arguments from both
the Bush and Gore camps on the 20th. The Gore camp argued that there is no
hurry to the certification of the election, since US law states that electors do
not need to be appointed until December 12. The counties that wished to do
recounts ought to be done with the recounts by that time, and the Court should
err on the side of caution, allowing every ballot to be counted. The Bush camp
argued that the more time that slips by, the more chance there is for fraud in
the recount process; that Florida law plainly states when the counting and
recounting deadlines are; and that it is not the place of the judiciary to step
on the shoes of the executive departments charged with certifying the election
in law duly passed by the legislature. For a day and a half, the Court
deliberated on the issue.

On the 21st of November, late in the evening, the Court did rule, saying
that the Florida Secretary of State must continue to accept returns from
counties doing recounts, but setting a deadline of no later than 5 p.m. on
November 26th (as this is a Sunday, the Court stated that if the Secretary’s
office was not to be open, then an alternate deadline of 9 a.m. on November
27th would substitute – the Secretary assured Floridians that her office would
be open on the 26th). The 43-page ruling did not address some issues, such as
the countability of some of the ballots. The date chosen by the Court were
designed to allow ample time for manual recounts to be finished, and to allow
ample time for either candidate to protest the results under Florida law, and
still meet the December 12th date set in US law for the appointment of

Vice President Gore appeared on national TV that night, saying that he
thought democratic principles were prevailing. He also put the kibosh on some
thoughts of asking Bush electors to defect to the Gore camp on Electoral
College Day, stating plainly that he did not want to short-circuit the
constitutional process.

Completing the Count

In Florida’s Broward and Palm Beach Counties, manual recounts which started
prior to the Supreme Court ruling continued unabated. But in populous Dade
County, the canvassing board finally decided not to do any manual recounting,
considering the time provided by the Court to still be too little to recount
its over 600,000 votes. A proposal to examine all “under vote” ballots (those
rejected by the machine counters because of no Presidential preference
indicated) was rejected. Initial returns from the other two counties showed
only small net gains, but in both directions – Palm Beach for Bush, Broward for
Gore, and counting continued through the Thanksgiving holiday. The Bush camp,
on the 22nd, appealed the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme

Not ready to rest on its laurels, the Bush camp also filed suits on the 25th
and 26th against several counties over the counting, or non-counting, of
overseas absentee ballots. Armed with the knowledge that the majority of
uncounted votes were from military personnel whose ballots did not meet
technical requirements such as proper postmarks, the Bush team had a strong
military following. The argument was that just as partially poked holes are
being counted as proof of voter intent in Broward and Palm Beach counties, a
signed ballot, even if not valid under other technicalities, should imply
intent on the part of the absentee voter.

Adding drama to the already exciting, or perhaps arduous, story, Republican
Vice Presidential hopeful Cheney was hospitalized on the 22nd for what doctors
called a minor heart attack. Speculation began to fly about how the Electoral
College would handle it if Cheney could not serve. The situation was not
without precedent, however, and confidence in the College despite Cheney’s
health was as high (or as low, depending to whom you spoke) as ever. Cheney
was released a few days after being admitted, promoting the notion of healthful

The End … But Not Really

Florida Secretary of State Harris’s office was open for business on Sunday
the 26th, in order to receive any recount numbers and for the purpose of
certifying the election. In accordance with the trend of the three weeks past,
there was no lack of drama. In Palm Beach County, the canvassing board raced to
finish counting ballots before the 5pm deadline. When it was apparent that
they would need a couple extra hours, the board sent partial recounts to the
Secretary and pleaded for extra time. The Secretary denied the extra time and
rejected the partial numbers. She used the county’s previous recount numbers
instead, and certified the election: By a vote total of 2,912,790 to 2,912,253,
or a difference of 537 votes, Bush was certified the winner of Florida’s 25
electoral votes.

Bush supporters were ecstatic, and Bush himself appeared on TV on the
evening of November 26th to ask the Gore camp to accept the certification and
stop any legal proceedings. He announced the appointment of his chief of staff
and announced that Cheney would be heading the transition team. But the Gore
team was not ready to give up. It was angry about the rejection of the Palm
Beach results, and was also challenging the lack of hand recounts in several
counties (Florida law requires that multi-county challenges be heard in one
county, causing hope for quick and uniform settlement). In addition, in
Seminole County, individual voters were challenging absentee ballots that had
been sent after ballot applications were allegedly altered by Republican
workers to fill in missing required information, and in two counties, local
Republicans challenged the disqualification of overseas ballots that had not
been properly postmarked.

Officially, the election entered the “contest” phase, a period of time
following certification in which challenges to election results could be filed.
So though it seemed like the end, the Secretary’s announcement on the 26th was
really just another beginning.

Gore went on TV on the evening of the 27th to explain his position. To
justify the continued court challenges, he said that “ignoring votes means
ignoring democracy itself.” He vowed to try to ensure that every vote in
Florida is counted, regardless of whom the winner would then turn out to be. He
cited some counties where thousands of votes had gone uncounted since Election
Day, and blamed Republicans for blocking efforts to count all ballots. Most
pundits agreed that both Bush and Gore had valid points to make, but that Gore
was the one under the gun. Americans were being patient, but their patience
was not unlimited.

The United States Supreme Court

In a move some found surprising, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear part of
the Bush’s November 22nd appeal. Though it rejected several of Bush’s points
of appeal, it did agree to hear arguments a week later, on December 1,
concerning the ruling of the Florida Court that allowed hand recounts in some
counties but not all. Bush argued that this was a violation of the 14th
Amendment’s equal protection clause. The Court set a very tight schedule for
the filing of arguments and replies. The Court asked that both sides address
what they thought the consequences would be if the Court found the Florida
election to not be in accordance with 3 USC 5, which deals with the appointment
of electors. It also rejected an appeal of a decision not to halt the manual
recounts, effectively allowing the counties still counting to continue to do so

On Friday, December 1, the Court heard the oral arguments from both sides.
The hearing was remarkable in several ways. First, both sides were given 45
minutes to present their case, 15 minutes more than normal. Second, audio
tapes of the hearing were released soon after the hearing was over, a direct
departure from the normal end-of-term release of tapes. Lastly, the speed at
which the case had been heard and with which the justices returned with a
verdict was very unusual.

The Contest Phase

The contest phase of the election was in full swing when Florida’s
legislature decided that it needed to be prepared. On December 12, according
to federal law, electors had to be selected. Most agreed that there was no
flexibility in this date. It was possible, the legislature believed, that the
court cases concerning the election might not be resolved by the 12th, and
rather than be caught by surprise, Republican-dominated legislature started to
plan a possible special session. The Gore camp appeared ready to prevent this
in any way possible, asking the judge in the Leon County recount case to
expedite the proceedings. Gore also asked for an ordered recount of disputed
ballots in Dade and Palm Beach, a request which was denied. The judge did
agree that all of those two counties’ ballots should be moved to Tallahassee,
where the case was being heard. The ballots in question numbered just about a

The judge in the case, N. Sanders Sauls, opened his court on the Saturday
immediately after the Supreme Court hearing. His task was to decide if the
recounts of the Palm Beach and Dade county ballots should proceed. Throughout
the day on Saturday the 2nd, and almost the entire next day, the judge heard
testimony from dozens of witnesses, on topics ranging from voting machines to
statistics. One voter testified to about his decision not to vote, and he
wondered if he might have somehow marked the ballot unintentionally. The Bush
team used its witness to call into question the entire “dimpled chad” question,
or, whether or not a mark on a push-hole ballot could be made in error. The
Gore team focused on 80 years of Florida election law to make the case that
Gore’s request for a recount is not unusual and has much precedent in Florida’s
election history.

Sauls promised, after closing arguments late Sunday night, to render a
decision the next day.

Meanwhile, in Seminole county, the suit brought by voters in which the Gore
camp had not joined, was starting to gain attention – in that case, it is
alleged that Republican Party workers filled in incomplete absentee ballot
requests, which the plaintiffs argue should necessitate the elimination of all
the county’s 15,000 absentee ballots. The other cases brought by Bush
supporters also were still in the works, most to ask that rejected overseas
ballots be counted.

The U.S. Supreme Court rules

After just a few days, on December 4, the U.S. Supreme Court returned with
their verdict in the case they had heard. The aspect of that case was whether
the Florida Supreme Court overstepped its bounds in extending the tally
submission deadline from the 14th to the 26th. On the 14th, Bush had a
930-vote lead over Gore, and after the 26th it had changed to a 537-vote lead.
The immediate effects of the U.S. Supreme Court decision were not apparent,
though Leon County Judge Sauls put off his decision until after he reviewed the

Technically, the Supreme Court ruling did not invalidate the ruling of the
Florida Supreme Court – it merely “set it aside.” The opinion was unsigned,
meaning that it is unknown how many of the justices voted for the course of
action. The Court remanded, or sent back, the case to the Florida Supreme
Court so that that court might have a chance to better explain the reasons for
why it extended the deadline. It declined to rule on the legality or
constitutionality of the Florida Court’s ruling. The ruling did not change the
537-vote lead as the Bush camp had hoped.

Gore’s Defeat

Judge Sauls did put off his decision in the Leon County case to review the
Supreme Court decision, but there was little to review – the two cases were not
related in any legal way. So just a few hours late, on December 4, 2000, Sauls
ruled on the Palm Beach County and Dade County recount contests. He found that
there was no evidence presented by the plaintiff (Gore) to suggest that a hand
recount of the ballots in question would change the outcome of the election.
He rejected Gore’s arguments on all counts. Immediately the Gore camp appealed
to the Florida Supreme Court, but the feeling in Florida and in Washington was
that the end was near. The Florida Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal
directly, without going through normal appeals court processes, at least in
part because the deadline for selecting electors was now just a week away. The
Gore challenge was now much tougher – they could only argue that Sauls had made
errors in his conduct of the hearings or in his ruling, a standard few seemed
to believe could be proven.

The Florida Supreme Court announced that it would hear the appeal on
Thursday the 7th of December, with written arguments to be filed by noon the
day before. Pundits on both sides of the political spectrum saw this as Gore’s
last chance, most saying that even if other options were available following
the Supreme Court decision, Gore should concede if he lost. Gore, putting on a
brave face, said in a news conference on the 5th that he was “optimistic.”
Bush, on the other hand, had the luxury of being the defendant, and was using
the time to explore options for his staff and Cabinet. Bush also got his first
national security briefing from the CIA, at the request of the Clinton
administration (Gore, as Vice President, already got a daily briefing).

On the evening of the 5th, Bush appeared for his first full television
interview since the election. In it, he expressed his belief that he had won
the electoral vote, but insisted on being called “Governor” and not
“President-elect,” because of all the outstanding suits. He also declined to
call for Gore to concede nor did he fault Gore for his efforts, saying that
both he and Gore had “poured our heart and soul” into the campaign.

The Last Gasp

With victory in the Florida Supreme Court appearing to be unlikely, all eyes
turned to court cases in Seminole and Martin Counties. Both were brought by
local Democrats that accused Republican election workers of altering absentee
ballot applications, by adding or fixing missing information, and, in the
Martin County case, of removing the applications from the county election
supervisor’s office. Though the Gore team was not a party to the cases, both
of which had hearings held on December 6th, many said that Gore’s best chances
hinged on them. The plaintiffs were seeking to have all absentee ballots
thrown out, a move which could put Gore far into the lead, since Bush won a
vast majority of the ballots. The Seminole County case contested 15,000
ballots, the Martin County case about 10,000. Both cases were heard in the
circuit court in Leon County. Another suit filed in Bay County alleges that
Florida Governor Jeb Bush sent letters to residents illegally urging them to
stay home and vote by absentee ballot instead of at the polls. It sought to
affect some 20,000 ballots.

Not to be outdone, state Republicans contested the rules used to throw out
some overseas absentee ballots in seven counties. The GOP claimed in
particular that procedures used disenfranchised military personnel in
particular. The suit stated that the lack of a postmark on mail coming from
military post offices should not be used as a basis to exclude a ballot. The
suit is similar to one filed earlier by the GOP against 14 counties, but later
dropped. The case was heard in U.S. District Court on the 5th.

In the Florida Legislature, as the December 12th federal deadline for the
appointment of electors drew near, arrangements were being made to hold a
special session to appoint those electors if the legal challenges were not yet
complete by the deadline.

The Seminole County hearing was held all day on the 6th, and the Martin
County hearing was held in sessions book-ending the Seminole County hearing,
with testimony running until midnight. There was general agreement that
technical violations of the law occurred, but the issue was whether or not the
violations amounted to fraud. The Democratic lawyers tried to paint the
filling in of missing data on absentee ballot applications as a grand
conspiracy, while Republican lawyers tried to paint the same acts as those of
well-meaning political workers trying to ensure that a Party error did not
disenfranchise voters. Both trials continued on the 7th, marking one month
since Election Day, with closing arguments in both setting up rulings the next

Also on the 7th, the Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Gore
appeal of the case denied by Judge Sauls. The justices seemed skeptical that
the requested recount could be completed by the December 12th deadline, but
Democratic lawyers assured the Court that the recount would be finished if
allowed. Republican lawyers’ main argument against the recount was that the
courts had no business ruling in the case at all. After just over an hour of
oral arguments, the justices took the case under consideration, promising a
rapid response.

Other possible trouble loomed for the Bush/Cheney ticket on the 7th, outside
of Florida. A federal court granted a hearing on the issue of whether Cheney
was a resident of Texas. Cheney claimed residency in Wyoming, though he had
physically lived in Texas for quite some time before changing his status. If
he was found to be a resident of Texas, Texas electors would not be able to
vote for both Bush and Cheney, according to the 12th Amendment. Though several
lower courts had thrown out the case, the appeals court decided to take up the
issue. The issue sounded worse than it was as the press misreported that no
elector can vote for two people from the same state. The seriousness of the
issue was no less important for Texas electors, however, because of the
closeness of the election. But quickly the judges in the case ruled that
Cheney met the constitutional requirements for citizenship in Wyoming, clearing
the way for all Republican electors to vote for both Bush and Cheney.

End Game

December 8, 2000 was lined up to be a fateful day for the Gore campaign.
Rulings in both absentee ballot application cases were expected, along with one
from the Florida Supreme Court, and a special session of the Legislature to
consider its appointment electors. Though delayed, the judges in the Seminole
and Martin County cases both ruled that the absentee ballots were not to be
thrown out, with one judge saying that though there were irregularities, the
integrity of the election had not been violated. The Gore team, which had been
watching the cases but had never been a party to them, looked to the Supreme
Court for the last ruling. The Florida Supreme Court, on the 12th, upheld the
decisions in the Seminole and Martin County cases.

After weeks of defeats, many felt the Supreme Court would deal the final
blow – but instead, in a split 4-3 decision, the Florida Court ruled that not
only did the disputed Dade and Palm Beach county undervote ballots have to be
hand counted, but all undervotes in the whole state would have to be
recounted. Because of the time crunch, the Court ordered the counts begin
immediately. Additionally, the Court added unaccounted votes from Palm Beach
and Dade Counties, cutting Bush’s lead from 537 votes to 154. But the victory
was short-lived. Though statewide standards were set and some actual counting
got under way, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in on Saturday, December 9th. By
a 5-4 vote, it stopped all recounts and called for a hearing on the morning of
the 11th, to hear arguments as to the legality of the newly ordered recount.
Once again the courts were extending the process … and polls showed more and
more people were tiring.

Amid raucous protests outside, the U.S. Supreme Court met on the morning of
the 11th. Bush’s attorneys asked the court to uphold its stay of the recounts,
charging that the Florida Supreme Court far over stepped its bounds in ordering
the recount. It called the Court’s recounting scheme “arbitrary, capricious,
unequal, and standardless,” and a violation of the Article 2 powers of the
state legislature to decide how electors are to be chosen. The Gore team
countered that the Florida Court was simply interpreting the laws provided by
the Florida legislature, as all courts do, and urged the U.S. Supreme Court
to rule promptly so that counting could be completed before the December 12th
Title 3 federal deadline for selection of electors.

December 12, the day that 3 USC 5 said that electors must be chosen, came in
like a rush. What would the Florida Legislature do? What about the Supreme
Court? The legislature did what it felt it had to do to ensure that Florida
was represented in the Electoral College. On the 12th, its House voted 79-41
to approve the Bush slate of electors. The State Senate decided to wait until
the 13th to take up the issue, hoping the Supreme Court will have ruled by

The decision came at a late hour, 10 p.m. Eastern time, and it did not bode
well for Gore. By a vote of 7-2, the Court said that the Florida Supreme Court
had erred in calling for a manual recount. But by only a 5-4 vote, it declared
that the counting of the undervotes only amounted to a violation of the
Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. It sent the case back to the Florida
Supreme Court, essentially saying that there may be remedies for Gore, but
whatever the remedy, it could not include a recount. With a recount seeming to
be the only possible way of keeping Gore’s chances alive, the contest appeared
to finally be over. Calls from even ardent supporters began to ring out – Gore
should finally concede the election.

The Gore team decided to take the night to examine the decision and see if
any options were left open. By early next morning, it was clear that there
weren’t. The Vice President prepared to address the nation on the evening
of the 13th, as did the Governor an hour thereafter.

As expected Gore conceded in his speech. He commented on the Supreme Court
ruling days before, saying “Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree
with the court’s decision, I accept it.” At the same time, he called for all
Americans to unite behind President Bush: “I personally will be at his
disposal, and I call on all Americans — I particularly urge all who stood
with us to unite behind our next president. This is America. Just as we fight
hard when the stakes are high, we close ranks and come together when the
contest is done.” Gore concluded by saying: “As for the battle that ends
tonight, I do believe as my father once said, that no matter how hard the loss,
defeat might serve as well as victory to shape the soul and let the glory

Bush’s speech, given from the floor of the Texas House, was conciliatory.
Bush was clearly trying to build a bipartisan feeling from the starting gate:
“Tonight I chose to speak from the chamber of the Texas House of
Representatives because it has been a home to bipartisan cooperation… We’ve
had spirited disagreements. And in the end, we found constructive consensus. It
is an experience I will always carry with me, an example I will always follow.”
He promised to serve to the best of his ability, to be a President for all
Americans: “I was not elected to serve one party, but to serve one nation. The
president of the United States is the president of every single American, of
every race and every background. Whether you voted for me or not, I will do my
best to serve your interests and I will work to earn your respect.”

The race run, the challenges over, the decision made, the electorate
breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The Aftermath

Throughout the nation, people began to take second looks at the Electoral
College system. Gore was pretty clearly the popular vote winner, though only
by about 500,000 votes out of over 100 million cast. Subjects that used to
cause students’ eyes to glaze over in civics class were suddenly the focus of
barroom, water cooler, and dinner table discussions. Rumors and theories were
flying about like so many swarms of mosquitoes. News organizations began
their own counts of the disputed ballots, once they became public records,
in an attempt to put the issue to rest and to find out, in the words of the
Miami Herald, “What went wrong.” Most found that Gore would not have overcome
his vote deficit, even with the most liberal of standards for counting
partially-marked ballots.

Calls for some sort of national standards for balloting, to set residency
requirements, and to set methods of vote tabulation and how to determine when a
recount should be done and when a hand recount should be done. Everyone agreed
that there were flaws in the system, flaws which may not be fixable, and flaws
which usually had a negligible effect on the outcome of any one election, let
alone a national election. How to make changes is another story.

In his dissent of the December 12th decision, U.S. Supreme Court Justice
John Paul Stevens lamented that the Bush case relied on “an unstated lack of
confidence in the impartiality and capacity of the state judges who would make
the critical decisions if the vote count were to proceed.” He echoed the fears
of many that the impartiality of the judiciary, at the federal level too, but
particularly at the state level, was suspect.

Of the Bush presidency, no one knew how the election dispute would affect
its effectiveness. Calls for a bipartisan Cabinet, unheard of but for a few
notable exceptions, rang out. Democrats chomped at the bit for the 2002
election season, hoping voter distrust of the system and some lingering
animosity or suspicion of the Republicans would help carry them to the
congressional leadership, and ultimately to the White House in 2004.
Republicans were faced with a close House and a tied Senate, and moderate
members of both parties were courted.

The 2000 election could be called a watershed event in American history.
But it will only be those who write the history books a generation from now who
will be able to say for sure – embroiled as we are today in the heat of it all,
we cannot tell. Suffice it to say, it was an interesting time to be an
observer of American politics.