In episode 39 of Supreme Court Briefs, it's the most controversial Presidential election in American history (except maybe the Election of 1860 or Election of 1824), mainly because the Supreme Court ultimately decides its outcome.
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Special thanks to the AP Archives for footage for this video.
Produced by Matt Beat. All images and video used under fair use, original content, or found in the public domain. Music by Electric Needle Room (Matt Beat).
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In one of the closest presidential elections in American history, George W. Bush held a narrow lead over Al Gore. Out of nearly 6 million ballots in Florida, only 1784 votes separated the two. Under Florida law, and since the United States has a winner takes all system, the candidate with the most votes in the state got all of its electoral votes. Because it was so freaking close, state law said there had to be a machine vote recount. After the recount, it was even closer! Now, Bush’s lead was just 327.
No worries. Florida law also allowed Gore the option of a manual vote recount, meaning counting them by hand, in whatever counties Gore wanted. He was like, “Uh, yeah,” and picked four counties: Broward, Miami-Dade, Volusia, and Palm Beach. The problem, though, was that Gore was running out of time. Florida law also said (man Florida law says a lot) the state’s election results have to be certified within seven days of the election. Since election day was November 7, that meant the deadline was November 14th. Well three of those four counties didn’t get er done before the deadline. Despite those counties trying to get an extension, the Florida Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, went ahead and announced she would be certifying the votes, ending all the recounts.
Al Gore was like nuh-uh. He and Palm Beach County tried to get an injunction against Secretary Harris to prevent her from certifying the votes until those three counties got their recounts done. The Florida Supreme Court said “sure,” and granted the injunction on November 17. On November 21, it ruled that Secretary Harris had to let those counties finish recounting with a new deadline of November 26th. But Miami-Dade county was like, “nah man, that’s not enough time,” and it gave up counting! Gore said “hey hey hey Miami-Dade, you must count,” and tried to get another court order to force them but that one failed. On November 26, Harris certified the election, giving Bush what was now just a 537-vote victory.
You know what? Gore sued Harris, arguing the certified results were invalid because the recount process wasn’t finished yet. The Leon County Circuit dismissed his lawsuit, so Gore appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, which, on December 8, ruled in favor of Gore. They demanded that all votes not counted by voting machines had to be manually recounted if they hadn’t been already.
Well George W. Bush stepped in and said “hey hey hey hey...now wait just a minute” and appealed this decision to the United States Supreme Court. And holy crap, THE VERY NEXT DAY the Supreme Court reviewed the case. Why did the Supreme Court respond quicker than it ever does? Well, this was obviously important. Soon, the deadline for electors to formally submit their choice would be there, and soon after the new President would have to be inaugurated. Things needed to move along. The Court heard oral arguments on December 11th.
Through all of this, protesters lined the streets outside. Rarely throughout American history did the country seem so divided. Things were tense, to say the least. So what was the Court really looking at in this case? Well, the issue now was whether or not the Florida Supreme Court violated Article II Section 1 Clause 2 of the Constitution, specifically the part that says:
“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors…”
So could the Florida Supreme Court really step in on this? Also, Bush argued that the recounts went against the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.