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The presidential election results in 2000 will probably go down in history as the most contested results in American history, especially as the final outcome was so close and had to be ultimately decided by the Supreme Court.

The closeness of the result was unprecedented and it was made more controversial by the massive television and media coverage, which it prompted. There were constitutional provisions already established to deal with just such a situation that needed to be resolved before the next president could move into the White House. The position of president is the most powerful within the Federal Constitution, which is why presidential elections are so strongly contested. Indeed the separation of powers means that both Congress and the Supreme have constitutional responsibilities to settle disputed presidential election results like those of 2000 to ensure political stability in the country.

The presidential election of 2000 has thus far been the closest set of election results since the electoral college was established via the Federal Constitution at the end of the eighteenth century. The margin of victory or defeat in terms of the popular votes was a very slender one, with the candidate that gained the most votes actually losing in the electoral college. Indeed the Democratic party candidate, Senator Al Gore would have won the presidential election contest if it had been a straightforward poll between the two main contenders. Right across the United States, Al Gore received 337,576 votes more than the Republican nominee George W. Bush However, the outcome of the presidential election as always had to be decided through the electoral college process.

The candidate that wins the presidential election is the one that reaches the over all majority figure in the electoral college of 270 votes. In 2000 George W. Bush eventually won the electoral college by the smallest margin ever witnessed, with 271 votes compared to 267 votes for Al Gore. The state that proved pivotal for the delayed over all outcomes of the presidential election results was Florida.

Although the presidential election of 2000 was notable for the very closeness of the results, that alone did not cause the controversy surrounding this election contest which stands out in the history of the United States. In less extraordinary and more normal presidential elections the American electoral system has always managed to give the winning presidential candidate a wide margin of victory. A majority of the college votes meant that it did not really matter about spoilt ballot papers, as they would not influence the final results. Alternatively that could indeed happen if the successful candidate was the one with the lowest number of popular votes, yet won a majority of votes within the electoral college.

The founders of the Federal Constitution had attempted to anticipate contested or very close presidential election results and thus had made provisions to deal with such an eventuality. There is a strict timetable between the presidential election and the swearing in of the successful candidate as president. There is a constitutional provision that the House of Representatives can elect the president should any presidential election result in a tied vote or no candidate securing the required majority in the electoral college. On the other hand, if there are disputed presidential election results in any of the states that determine the destination of electoral college votes then it is the responsibility of the Supreme Court to make a fair and fast judgements to resolve the issue.

In all previous presidential elections the intervention of the House of Representatives or the Supreme Court had not been needed to decide the outcome of the contest. The Republicans and the Democrats accepted that because of the way, in which the electoral college operates, the candidate with the lowest total of popular votes could win the presidential election. As in practice the candidate that won the most populous states would win the contest. Although the electoral college did not provide exactly proportional results, only on three previous occasions had the contender with the lowest popular vote won the presidential elections.

In November 2000 every state apart from Florida quickly declared their over all results for the electoral college. With the presidential election being the closest run ever, the results for Florida became the deciding factor in which candidate would win the presidency and thus move into the White House. The results in Florida were very close, which had much higher than average number of spoilt and ineligible ballot papers. The Democrats believed that some of the spoilt ballot papers were actually not spoilt at all, whilst the Republicans did not believe that any of the ineligible votes should be counted. Both parties wanted a recount of all ballot papers cast in Florida yet could not agree on what constituted a spoilt ballot paper or not. The wrangling about the need for a recount in Florida increased the controversy surrounding the presidential election and a quick resolution to the issue was required, as the results had to be declared within a very tight deadline. To end the impasse it was decided to refer the whole issue of declaring the presidential election results for Florida to the Supreme Court to make a ruling to settle the issue definitively. The Supreme Court is supposed to be politically neutral or balanced and if that had been undeniably the case in November 2000 then the final out come of the presidential election in Florida and over all across the United States would not have provoked such a high degree of controversy.

The Supreme Court is the most important part of the American judicial system and is the highest court in the land. The majority of the Supreme Court’s time is taken up with debating and deciding about straightforward as well as contentious legal issues and specific legal cases. However the Supreme Court also serves very important constitutional functions, including the role of deciding upon the potential and actual legal issues derived from Congressional and presidential elections. Each state in the United States decides upon how Congressional and presidential elections are conducted, with some guidance from the Federal Constitution as to how such elections should be conducted.

In 2000 the Supreme Court was called upon to fulfil its role of being a politically neutral arbiter of contested presidential election results to decide which votes were spoilt and which votes were not spoilt in the state of Florida. Besides deciding about the validity or other wise of ballot papers the Supreme Court also had to decide on how recounts were allowed. Those decisions would turn out to prove very controversial in the way in which the presidential election results of 2000 were finally settled.

The Republicans hoped that the Supreme Court would decide that none of the spoilt ballot papers were actually eligible votes, which should count. Not only did the Republicans want none of the spoilt ballot papers turned into votes, they also wished that the Supreme Court would only allow the barest minimum number of recounts in Florida. Conversely the Democrats argued that the Supreme Court should order that all the spoilt ballot papers be re-examined and that all necessary recounts should be allowed to reach the fairest possible results in Florida. Of course the opposing views of the Republicans and the Democrats were based around gaining the judgements that would maximise the chances of their respective candidates winning the presidential election.

The Supreme Court eventually made decisions that meant George W. Bush won the state of Florida, its electoral college votes and thus gained entry into the White House. The Democrats at the time complained about the Supreme Court being politically biased in favor of the Republicans, that bias was evident as the majority of the judges had right-wing political opinions that were similar to those of George W. Bush. Supreme Court judges are appointed in a process that involves Congress approving or rejecting nominations made by the president. Generally judges are known to have declared political allegiances, with the Supreme Court having a balance between Republican, Democrat and independent judges. As a result of President Reagan and Bush senior being able to have Republican judges appointed the political balance was definitely in George W. Bush’s favor when the issue of determining the Florida election result arose. Bush himself would increase the controversy surrounding the presidential election results of 2000 because of his more radically right-wing political views and subsequent policies once in the White House.

The presidential election of 2000 was without any doubt the most controversial contest for the White House yet experienced. It was only the fourth time when the presidential candidate with the lower share of the popular vote won the majority of electoral college votes. The presidential election of 2000 was the closest contest both in terms of the popular vote and the number of electoral college votes between Gore and Bush. In the end it was to be the vote in the state of Florida that decided the final out come. The contest in Florida had produced a much higher number of spoilt ballot papers than usual with the matter being referred to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court made decisions with regard to the eligibility of spoilt ballot papers and the number of recounts that put Bush into the presidency, with claims of the court being politically biased.

Bibliography

Duncan R & Goddard J, (2005) Contemporary America 2nd edition, Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke & New York

Grant A & Ashbee E, (2002) The Politics Today companion to American government,Manchester University Press, Manchester & New York

Laurent E, (2004) Bush’s Secret World, Polity Press, Cambridge & Malden, MAWard G, (2003) the Rough Guide History