The disputed election of 2000 between George W Bush and Albert Gore turned on the Florida recount and was not decided until about 36 days after the election.
The total vote count in Florida in 2000 was about 5.8 million. Here is what developed:
• On election night 2000 most of the networks called Florida for Gore by 8:02PM Eastern Standard Time. The 24 states where polls closed after that saw a voter participation decline from 1960-2000 averages. The 26 other states and Washington DC showed a voter participation gain. In each case the change was 2-3%. This probably cost Bush New Mexico and Oregon and clearly affected the popular vote. In short, the media was a participant in the 2000 election.
• On November 8, the day after the election, Bush led in Florida by 1784 votes.
• On November 15 after a statewide machine recount Bush led by 327.
• Also on November 15 Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris announced that she would not accept further hand recounts and asked the Florida Supreme Court to halt them. Four counties were still engaged in hand recounts. She based that decision on her reading of Florida law which held that county totals needed to be submitted to her office within seven days of the election. In 2000 that was November 14. Circuit Court judge Terry Lewis had upheld Harris’ refusal to extend. The Associated Press estimated that the count of undervotes had reduced Bush’s lead to 286. (Undervotes were ballots that contained no recorded vote for one or more offices but may have had some designation on them.)
• The Florida Supreme Court blocked Harris from certifying vote totals until the Court could decide on the Democrats’ request to allow the manual recounts. Carter , when asked if the hand counts should be allowed to proceed, replied, “Well, I think so. And if that is not acceptable, when the courts make a ruling, then I think the final determination which should be as a fall back only that the hand counting should be conducted in every county in Florida.”
• On November 18 military and overseas ballots pushed Bush’s lead to 930. The Gore team was able to invalidate about fourteen hundred military and oversea ballots disproportionately in counties that Bush carried.
• On November 21 the Florida Supreme Court ruled 7-0 that Gore-requested manual hand counts should continue giving the four counties five additional days.
• On November 26 Secretary of State Harris certified the Florida results after the Florida Supreme Court deadline expired. Bush had a 537-vote lead.
• On December 4 Leon County Judge Sanders Saul rejected Gore’s contest of the Florida results.
• Also on December 4 the US Supreme Court by a 9-0 vote asked the Florida Supreme Court to explain why it had extended the manual recounts past the state’s statutory limits.
• On December 6 the Gore legal team moved to throw out twenty-five thousand absentee votes in two other counties which had Republican majorities: Seminole and Martin.
• On December 8 the Florida Supreme Court in a 4-3 vote ordered a manual recount of all undervotes in the state. The Court also ordered a recount of all votes in Miami-Dade and added to Gore’s total 215 votes from Palm Beach County and 168 from Miami-Dade.
• On December 9 the US Supreme Court accepted Bush’s appeal of the Florida Supreme Court decision of the day before.
• On December 12 the US Supreme Court ruled. Seven justices held that the Florida Supreme Court had violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it allowed Florida’s varying counting standards. Five Justices held that because the Florida Supreme Court had asserted repeatedly that the legislature wanted the electors appointed no later than December 12, that was the deadline and therefore no further recount was permissible under Florida law. (Gore’s lawyer in his arguments before the Florida Supreme Court in the case that led to the extension to November 26 had also said that December 12 was the deadline for electors to be appointed.)
“…In our view the Florida recount was one of a trifecta of occurrences around the turn of the millennium that led to lasting polarizing bitterness between Americans. It was sandwiched between the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the Iraq war.”
The sitting president and two of his predecessors weighed in during this period. A week after the election Clinton said: “ I want to congratulate both Vice President Gore and Governor Bush for a vigorous and hard-fought campaign. Once again, the world has seen democracy in action. The events unfolding in Florida are not a sign of the division of our nation, but of the vitality of our debate, which will be resolved through the vibrancy of our Constitution and laws. Regardless of the outcome, we will come together as a nation, as we always do.”
Later, Clinton took a partisan approach telling the media that the only way George W Bush could win “was to stop the vote count in Florida.”
Late in November, George HW Bush said his family had been on an “emotional roller-coaster” since the election but he believed his son would prevail over Al Gore’s challenges.
Clinton later wrote in his autobiography: “If Gore had been ahead in the vote count and Bush behind, there’s not a doubt in my mind that the same Supreme Court would have voted 9 to 0 to [re]count the vote and I would have supported the decision… Bush v. Gore will go down in history as one of the worst decisions the Supreme Court ever made, along with the Dred Scott case.”
Carter said four years later that election officials working for Florida’s governor Jeb Bush, the brother of George W Bush , were “highly partisan.”
In our view the Florida recount was one of a trifecta of occurrences around the turn of the millennium that led to lasting polarizing bitterness between Americans. It was sandwiched between the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the Iraq war.
Except for a small percentage of votes, Albert Gore would have been president and not George W. Bush. How would things have been different?
That calls for speculation.