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The Closest Presidential Races

Presidential races that went to the wire

by David Johnson and Beth Rowen

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Popular and Electoral Votes from 1960, 1968, 1976, and 2000

The closest Presidential races in recent history: 1960, 1968, and 1976.

For the original method of electing the President and the Vice President (elections of 1789, 1792, 1796, and 1800), see Article II, Section 1, of the U.S. Constitution.

From the early days of the 2000 presidential campaign season, it was clear the race would be a tight one between Vice President Al Gore and Texas governor George W. Bush. Few, however, predicted that the contest would not only come down to the wire, but to a single state and a few hundred votes.

Only the 1960 race, in which John F. Kennedy squeaked out victory over Richard M. Nixon by just 0.1 of a percent, was closer. In fact, Kennedy's triumph wasn't official until noon the following day. And in 1976, Jimmy Carter also waited overnight to be declared the winner over Gerald Ford.

Election of 1876

Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic candidate, received a popular majority but lacked one undisputed electoral vote to carry a clear majority of the electoral college.

The crux of the problem was in the 22 electoral votes which were in dispute because Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Oregon each sent in two sets of election returns.

In the three southern states, Republican election boards threw out enough Democratic votes to certify the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes. In Oregon, the Democratic governor disqualified a Republican elector, replacing him with a Democrat. Since the Senate was Republican and the House of Representatives Democratic, it seemed useless to refer the disputed returns to the two houses for solution.

Instead Congress appointed an Electoral Commission with five representatives each from the Senate, the House, and the Supreme Court. All but one Justice was named, giving the Commission seven Republican and seven Democratic members. The naming of the fifth Justice was left to the other four.

The fifth Justice was a Republican who first favored Tilden but, under pressure from his party, switched to Hayes, ensuring his election by the Commission voting 8 to 7 on party lines.

The Democrats in Congress were outraged and threatened to block the decision until Republicans privately agreed to a number of concessions, including the removal of federal troops from the South, which effectively ended Reconstruction. As a result, Hayes was elected President, in what became known as the Compromise of 1877.

CLOSE PRESIDENTIAL RACES

PRESIDENT ELECTORAL VOTES POPULAR VOTES
1800 *
Thomas Jefferson (Dem.-Rep.) 73 -
Aaron Burr (Dem.-Rep.) 73 -
John Adams (Federalist) 65 -
Charles C. Pinckney 64 -
John Jay 1 -
1876
Rutherford B. Hayes (R) 185 4,033,768
Samuel J. Tilden (D) 184 4,285,992
1916
Woodrow Wilson (D) 277 9,129,606
Charles E. Hughes (R) 254 8,538,221
1960
John F. Kennedy (D) 303 34,226,731
Richard M. Nixon (R) 219 34,108,157
1968
Richard M. Nixon (R) 301 31,785,480
Hubert H. Humphrey (D) 191 31,275,166
George C. Wallace (American Independent) 46 9,906,473
1976
Jimmy Carter (D) 297 40,830,763
Gerald R. Ford (R) 240 39,147,973
2000
George W. Bush (R) 271 50,455,156
Albert A. Gore (D) 266 50,992,335
2004
George W. Bush (R) 286 62,028,285
John F. Kerry (D) 251 59,028,109

* As Jefferson and Burr were tied, the House of Representatives chose the president. In a vote by states, 10 votes were cast for Jefferson, 4 for Burr; 2 votes were not cast.



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