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The election of 2000

The hotly-contested battle for the presidency between George W. Bush and Al Gore was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court. 


  • The 2000 presidential election pitted Republican George W. Bush against Democrat Al Gore.
  • Initial election returns showed that Gore had won the popular vote, but neither candidate had garnered the 270 electoral votes required to win the presidency.
  • The election hinged on results from the state of Florida, where the vote was so close as to mandate a recount.
  • The outcome of the election was ultimately decided by the US Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. The court, in a 5-4 vote, ruled in favor of Bush.

The 2000 presidential campaign

The 2000 presidential election pitted Republican George W. Bush, governor of Texas and son of former US president George H.W. Bush, against Democrat Al Gore, former senator from Tennessee and vice president in the administration of Bill Clinton.
Because Clinton had been such a popular president, Gore had no difficulty securing the Democratic nomination, though he sought to distance himself from the Monica Lewinsky scandal and Clinton’s impeachment trial.
Bush won the Republican nomination after a heated battle against Arizona Senator John McCain in the primaries. He chose former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney as his running mate.
In their presidential campaigns, both candidates focused primarily on domestic issues, such as economic growth, the federal budget surplus, health care, tax relief, and reform of social insurance and welfare programs, particularly Social Security and Medicare.

Results of the 2000 election

On election day, Gore won the popular vote by over half a million votes. Bush carried most states in the South, the rural Midwest, and the Rocky Mountain region, while Gore won most states in the Northeast, the upper Midwest, and the Pacific Coast. Gore garnered 255 electoral votes to Bush’s 246, but neither candidate won the 270 electoral votes necessary for victory. Election results in some states, including New Mexico and Oregon, were too close to call, but it was Florida, with its 25 electoral votes, on which the outcome of the election hinged.
Map of the electoral votes won by the candidate who carried each state. The tight race in Florida, where 25 electoral votes were at stake, triggered a recount. Map courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Based on exit polls in Florida, the news media declared Gore the winner, but as the actual votes were tallied, Bush appeared to command the lead. When 85 percent of the vote had been counted, news networks declared Bush the winner, though election results in a few heavily Democratic counties had yet to be tallied.
Disputes erupted over the accuracy and reliability of election technology in the state, with confusion over “butterfly ballots” (ballots that have names on both sides), punch card voting machines, and “hanging chads” (punch card ballots that were only partially punched). These convoluted ballot designs led to calls for election and voting reform, and some states installed electronic voting machines to ensure greater accuracy in future elections.
The result in Florida was so close as to trigger a statewide mandatory machine recount according to the Florida Election Code. The Gore campaign then requested that the disputed ballots in four counties be recounted by hand. The Florida Supreme Court extended the deadline for the recount and ordered a manual recount. The Bush campaign appealed the decision, and the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

Bush v. Gore

In the resulting case, Bush v. Gore, the US Supreme Court ordered that the recount be stopped. The incomplete recount was halted, and Bush was awarded Florida’s electoral votes and declared the president-elect.1
The Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore was controversial because the 5-4 vote was along partisan lines, meaning the justices appointed by Republican presidents (with the exception of Justice David Souter) ruled in favor of Bush, and the justices appointed by Democratic presidents argued in favor of Gore. Another point of controversy in the 2000 election was the fact that George W. Bush’s brother, Jeb Bush, was the governor of Florida at the time of the recount, although no evidence of wrongdoing surfaced. Al Gore conceded the election to Bush, but disagreed with the US Supreme Court’s ruling.2
The 2000 presidential election was the closest in the history of the US Electoral College and the first ever to be decided by the US Supreme Court.3 George W. Bush entered office as an embattled president, with many questioning his legitimacy. Although Bush worked to unite the country in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, he proved a polarizing figure during his presidency.

What do you think?

How does the election of 2000 compare to other presidential elections?
Do you think the Supreme Court was right to halt the recount in Florida? Why or why not?
What were the long-term consequences of the 2000 election?

Want to join the conversation?

  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    How long would the recount have taken? I don't understand why the Supreme Court couldn't have just let it proceed? Why did Al Gore concede? Was there anything else that he could have done?
    (11 votes)
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    • ohnoes default style avatar for user Tejas
      The best answer I can give you is "it's complicated". The recounts had gone up until December 9 (although they had been stopped and restarted and stopped and restarted several times before then) when the Supreme Court stopped the recount with a 7 to 2 decision, on the basis that it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

      On December 12, the Supreme Court, in a 5 to 4 decision, decided that in order to conduct a recount that was constitutionally permissible, it would take more time than Florida had, since US law required that the electors be picked six days before the electoral vote, which was on December 18. That meant that Florida had just one day to first create a system of counting ballots that was fair to all Floridians, and then finish counting the ballots. To the majority, this seemed impossible.

      Al Gore conceded because Florida followed the Supreme Court's order and stopped the recount. He had no control over it. However, he could have tried to convince the Florida legislature to do something weird with its electors, perhaps splitting them between him and Bush, but he had only one day to do that, and did not succeed.

      Al Gore could have also tried to convince the electors to ignore the ballot results and vote for him anyway, but the electors are partisans, and so it would probably have been pointless.
      (32 votes)
  • winston default style avatar for user shawnfu02
    Would it have been possible to have some other non-partisan judges hear the Bush v Gore case?
    (6 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user Alex Nemchenko
    Why was a re-vote not enacted, that could have been monitored more carefully?
    (4 votes)
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  • female robot ada style avatar for user ArmstronMakenna
    Shouldn't the electoral college be scrapped then?
    (1 vote)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Ben McCuskey
      If you research the topic of the reasoning in favor of the Electoral College you will find that there were two broad concerns among some of the Founding Fathers. One was the concern among those from the less populated states - including James Madison - in the south that an election based only on a popular vote would give those states less influence than their more populated neighboring states in the north. This was also the rationale behind slaves constituting 3/5 of a vote in the US Constitution. Another argument favoring an Electoral College was the concern among some of the founders that the electorate - although it was limited solely to wealthy land-owning White males at the time - might occasionally elect a President who was not "capable" or "unqualified" due to the electorate lacking the necessary powers of discernment. This position was advocated by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist # 68. In that case, the Electors, as represented by the founders themselves or their designated assignees, would step in and correct the errant decision of the less-than-qualified electorate.

      Needless to say these justifications for the Electoral College are racist, elitist, undemocratic and thoroughly outdated. Furthermore, the states with lower populations are already provided for by each state, regardless of population, having only two US Senators each. California has roughly 40,000,000 people and Wyoming has roughly 500,000 and they both have two US Senators. No votes should count more than others: one person, one vote. No other western democracy has this system and it's an embarrassment that the US still has it. The Electoral College needs to be eliminated.
      (7 votes)
  • spunky sam red style avatar for user Edward (Eddie) W.
    One big question that I have: Why did the Supreme Court decide a recount was unconstitutional? It would have made the election longer, yes, but was it REALLY unconstitutional? I get that people would want a shorter or regular-timed election, but a recount would help decide who actually won the election.
    (6 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      There are many possible responses to your question. Here's one of them. "In a per curiam decision, the Court first ruled 7–2 (Justices Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissenting), strictly on equal protection grounds, that the recount be stopped. Specifically, the use of different standards of counting in different counties violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. (The case had also been argued on the basis of Article II jurisdictional grounds, which found favor with only Justices Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and William Rehnquist.) Second, the Court ruled 5–4 against the remedy, proposed by Justices Stephen Breyer and David Souter, of sending the case back to Florida to complete the recount using a uniform statewide standard before the scheduled December 18 meeting of Florida's electors in Tallahassee.[1] The majority held that no alternative method could be established within the discretionary December 12 "safe harbor" deadline set by Title 3 of the United States Code (3 U.S.C.), § 5, which the Florida Supreme Court had stated that the Florida Legislature intended to meet.[2] That deadline arrived two hours after the release of the Court's decision. The Court, stating that not meeting the "safe harbor" deadline would therefore violate the Florida Election Code, rejected an extension of the deadline."
      (5 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Camden Charles
    Could Florida have decided not to send its electors to the Electoral College if it did not have time to ensure the election was properly counted?
    (5 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user famousguy786
      The answer to your question is-they could have decided to not send their electoral votes to Congress but they really wanted to send their votes as not sending them would have effectively disenfranchised everyone in Florida . If they did not send their electoral votes to Congress before the official the deadline to do so, neither Bush nor Gore could have reached 270 electoral votes and a contingent election would have taken place in the House of Representatives for President and in the Senate for Vice President, which would have been super messy and therefore everyone worked hard to avoid that situation.
      (4 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user SoccerboyH2
    IF the results were "scattered", who would officially be president? Bush or Gore?
    (4 votes)
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user 18_pkemp
    I have heard that Jeb Bush rigged the decision in favor of his brother, when Gore should have become the 43rd president. Is this statement in any way correct?
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Trïstan Løvin
    Couldn't they have just redone the entire election?
    (2 votes)
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  • male robot donald style avatar for user LM
    so, who won? bush or gore?
    (2 votes)
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