America found itself in the middle of a constitutional crisis on this day in 2000 after the general election was locked in a too-close-to-call fight in three states, between the then-Democratic Vice President Al Gore and the Republican challenger, George W Bush.
After a campaign during which the two candidates were consistently neck-and-neck in the polls, election day saw Bush sweep the south and much of the Midwest – but Gore took the northeastern states and the west coast to narrowly lead in electoral college votes with three states still to declare.
Winning New Mexico with five electoral college votes (ECVs) and Oregon (with seven) alone would not be enough for either candidate to establish a winning majority. Thus the outcome of the election would be decided on the result in Florida, which offered 25 ECVs.
The following morning, America would still not have a President – despite many newspapers calling Florida for Bush prematurely. The Texan governor was initially said to have won the state by a margin of 1,784 votes out of a total of nearly six million cast.
Florida state law provided for an automatic machine recount if a candidate’s margin of victory was 0.5% or less. As attention focused on the state’s election practices, it soon became clear that it had a number of eccentricities, and both parties geared up for a protracted legal battle.
A purge of over 54,000 people from the electoral roll for being ‘felons’ had occurred, when many of those were not (at least in Florida). There were also an unusually large number of ballot papers on which two choices for President had been marked.
Furthermore, in Palm Beach a folding ‘butterfly ballot’ with candidates’ names staggered down the page caused confusion, and an abnormal number of votes for third party candidate Pat Buchanan; over 3,000 Gore supporters were estimated to have accidentally voted for Buchanan.
The controversy rumbled on, and on December 8 the Florida courts ordered a manual recount of all disputed ballots. However, this decision was overthrown by the US Supreme Court the following day; Bush was found to have won the state - and thus the Presidency – by a margin of 537 votes, or just 0.009% of the total votes cast there.