This Supreme Court case concluded the Presidential Election of 2000. The case settled the election in favour of Bush through the Equal Protection Clause over the issue of ballot recounts. It is perhaps one of the Court’s most controversial decisions.
Background to the case:
Electoral College votes in Florida are awarded to the candidate who wins the most votes in the state during a Presidential race. In 2000, the Florida Division of Elections ruled that Bush had won the state with 1,784 votes with the margin of victory being less than 0.5%. As this was the case a statutory recount of the automatic ballot machines was put in motion. Two dates later all the counts had finished, except in one county, and Bush’s victory had been reduced to just 327 votes.
Al Gore then requested a manual recount in four counties in Florida. Election law in Florida requires reporting of electoral results within 7 days of an election and dispensation was granted was granted to those states engaged in a recount as long as they could provide a reason for the delay. On the 18th November, Bus was called as the winner in Florida, however the case was then taken to court.
After several court battles, on December 8th the Florida Supreme Court ordered a state wide manual recount. However, the following day, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to rescind this order.
The case was presented to the Supreme Court with two different questions: The questions considered were as follows:
1) Were the recounts constitutional
2) If recounts are unconstitutional, then what is the remedy to that.
Bush argued that the way in which Florida recounts votes was unconstitutional as it was in violation of the 14th Amendment under the Equal Protection clause, as the recount rules were not state wide and led to differences between counties. Gore argued that if the recounts were unconstitutional it would mean that every state election was unconstitutional due to the different methods operated across the US.
Bush’s team further argued that the Supreme Court in Florida, had interpreted the law in such a way that it created a new law, and this was violation of Article II of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court ruled that the state wide recount for Florida was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, as there was no way to ensure that every ballot was going to count in the same way. In addition to this, the Court ruled that no method of recounting that was acceptable to the Constitution could happen before the December 12th deadline, in order to allow the Electoral College to meet. Therefore, as the recounts were suspended, the state was declared for Bush and Bush was then elected President at the Electoral College.
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