Bush v. Gore 2000: A cautionary tale for Election 2020

Crowd holding campaign posters that say 'Gore Lieberman 2000' and 'Bush Cheney'
Source: Elvert Barnes

Damian Privitera

As the 2020 Presidential race enters its defining stages between President Donald Trump and former Vice President, Joe Biden, the ideological polarisation between both candidates is arguably one of the strongest witnessed in U.S. contemporary politics. It may be hard to imagine a time when partisan division amongst Democrats and Republicans has run so deep and so strong, but for many of us, this upcoming election is not the first contemporary election where deep ideological divides have dominated.

Bush v. Gore 2000

On November 7th 2000, the world watched one of the most hotly contested presidential races between Texas Governor, George W. Bush and Vice President, Al Gore. As counting began on election night, the major news networks predicted Vice President Gore the winner of Florida’s 25 electoral votes - a critical battleground state. As the night progressed, this call would be hastily retracted, then called for Governor Bush, and once again quickly retracted early into the morning. By the next day, the election remained unresolved, with neither candidate having the 270 electoral votes needed to be elected President.

As Gore was declared the winner in Oregon and Wisconsin in the days following Florida, and with Governor Bush holding a slight lead, the victory remained undetermined. After Bush was declared the winner by Florida’s Secretary of State in the days after, and therefore the winner of the presidency, in accordance with state law, Gore requested a manual recount due to the tightness of the race. In response, the Florida Supreme Court ordered a state-wide manual recount, partially fulfilling Gore’s request of a recount in four predominantly democratic counties.

This would begin a month-long period of uncertainty, with Bush’s lead fluctuating, and ultimately narrowing, over the days. Even after the deadline for the recount appeared, the recount remained inconclusive. Meanwhile, Bush requested the U.S. Supreme Court reverse Florida’s order for a state-wide recount, to solidify the results in his favour. On December 12th 2000, with a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court sided with Bush and ended the state-wide recount. With a lead of 537 votes, George W. Bush was declared the victor of Florida’s 25 electoral votes, and therefore, became the President-elect, concluding one of the most drawn-out, contested elections in U.S. history.