Study Guide

The 2000 Election and the Electoral College

The 2000 Election and the Electoral College

  • 2000 presidential election revealed weaknesses in Electoral College system
  • Bush-Gore election was a statistical tie
  • Election ultimately decided by US Supreme Court
  • Electoral problems have frequently marred presidential elections in US history
On 12 December 2000, the United States Supreme Court announced its ruling in Bush v. Gore, finally bringing the presidential election of 2000 to an end. By a 5-4 vote, the Court overturned a Florida State Supreme Court ruling, ordering that the recount of "under-votes" in the state of Florida cease. The election results, certified and announced a month earlier, would therefore stand, giving Republican George Bush a victory in Florida, all 25 of its Electoral College votes, and a 271-266 nationwide victory over Democrat Al Gore for the presidency of the United States.

Between the 7 November election and 12 December, the nation had witnessed a series of court challenges and legal maneuverings. Gore's camp argued that a confusing "butterfly ballot" in Palm Beach County and a surprising number of "under-votes" throughout the state—ballots that recorded no vote when fed through the vote-counting machines—should be manually recounted. Florida law allowed for such a procedure; in fact, Florida law stated that county election boards should try to determine the "intent" of the voter when the machine failed to read a poorly marked ballot.

But the Bush camp argued that the resulting spectacle of county officials scrutinizing individual ballots—sometimes with a magnifying glass—to determine if the voter had attempted to make an impression on the ballot was a farce and should be ended. And on 12 December, the United States Supreme Court agreed. Of course, they did not put it quite that way. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy argued that the current recount was not guided by a uniform standard and consequently threatened the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law. Two justices in the minority, Stephen Breyer and David Souter, also felt that the Florida Supreme Court's failure to establish a governing standard when they ordered the recount on 8 December was a problem—but their solution was to remand, or return, the case to the Florida court for clarification. But Kennedy and the others in the majority had no patience for this solution. They seem moved by the logic of Justice Antonin Scalia that extending the recount did "irreparable harm" to the apparent winner, George Bush, by "casting a cloud upon . . . the legitimacy of his election."blank" rel="nofollow">Bush v. Gore, Court watchers identified Kennedy as the swing vote. His questions during oral arguments suggested that he was still undecided as to how he would rule—whether he would side with Scalia, who believed a quick resolution to the Florida fiasco was critical, or with Stevens, who argued that the Court had historically refrained from intervening in issues of this sort.

Ultimately, Kennedy sided with Scalia. The question is: was democracy best served?