by Beth Rowen
This article was posted on December 15, 2000.
Are you satisfied with the election outcome?
On December 13, 2000, 36 days after the election and the flurry of lawsuits, counter suits, appeals, and bitter partisan bickering that followed, Texas governor George W. Bush became the president-elect, prevailing over Vice President Al Gore in the electoral college by the narrowest of margins, 271–267. Gore dominated the popular vote, however, winning 50,158,094 votes over Bush's 49,820,518.
One day after the divided U.S. Supreme Court handed down its monumental 5–4 decision that essentially cleared the path for Bush to claim the White House, Gore conceded the presidency in a speech marked by its integrity. An hour later, Bush spoke to the nation in an equally dignified address.
Both men called on Americans to begin the healing process and end the rancor that has divided the nation, Congress, and even the U.S. Supreme Court.
"I call on all Americans—I particularly urge all who stood with us—to unite behind our next president," Gore said. Bush echoed that sentiment, saying, "Together, guided by a spirit of common sense, common courtesy, and common goals, we can unite and inspire the American citizens."
When Bush takes the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2001, he will be the fourth president to have triumphed in the electoral college but lost the popular vote. The others were John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison. Adams is also the only other son of a former president to occupy the Oval Office in his own right.
The 2000 election will go down in history, not only for the gridlock in Florida, but also for the way in which it split the Supreme Court and Congress. The court divided 5–4 on partisan lines in its decision to reverse the Florida Supreme Court, which had ordered manual recounts, saying the recount was not treating all ballots equally, and was thus a violation of the Constitution's equal protection and due process guarantees. Never before has the Supreme Court stepped in to rule on a federal election.
In a scathing dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said, "Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."
The Senate will be evenly divided, 50–50, since Gore's running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman, lost the vice presidency but won his reelection bid for senator from Connecticut. As vice president, Dick Cheney will cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate. Republicans will hold the majority in the 221–210 House of Representatives, with two independents and one vacancy.
It was clear from November 7 on that the 2000 election would be one for the record books. Indeed, at different times on election night and in the wee hours of November 8, each of the candidates was declared the winner, later to be stripped of the title president-elect. On November 11, after the mandatory machine recount revealed that the two candidates were only a few hundred votes apart, the election began its tortuous journey through the judicial system, when the Bush camp sued in federal district court to prohibit manual recounts, and ultimately ended in the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the end, tens of thousands of undervotes—votes that were never tallied by voting machines for a number of reasons—remain uncounted, casting doubt on who actually won the election.
While the campaign itself elicited yawns from the public, the drama in Florida engrossed the nation and undoubtedly signified the influence of and the public's reliance on the cable news stations, which offered round-the-clock coverage and commentary on the spectacle. It seemed that just when voters had had enough of the litigation, a bomb would drop, providing ample fodder for new debate and discussion.
Eventually, the country will move past the 2000 federal elections, and the debacle will become a footnote in history.
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