It was a phone call that will go down in history. After a long, bizarre Election Night last week, the major television networks had proclaimed Republican George Bush the new President, predicting that he had nailed the night's last large prize: Florida. Democratic candidate Al Gore had already called Bush to concede. Yet at 2:20 a.m., he was on the phone again.
"The state of Florida is too close to call," Gore said, citing new data showing that instead of 50,000 votes, Bush's lead had dwindled to 1,200 votes, or less than one 30th of one percent of the 5.8 million votes cast.
"Are you saying what I think you're saying?" Bush said. "Let me make sure that I understand. You're calling to retract your concession?"
"You don't have to be snippy about it," Gore shot back.
The two men hung up, and America entered into a new and unknown zone. With almost all the votes counted, the presidential election was locked in a stalemate. Each candidate was achingly close to the 270 electoral votes needed to win: Bush at 246, Gore at 260. But neither could win without Florida.
And Florida was something of a mess. With a recount under way, by late Thursday afternoon Bush had maintained a lead of just over 200 votes. Reports of voter irregularities were pouring in. Most significantly, in Palm Beach County, a confusing ballot apparently caused 19,000 voters to punch their ballots twice, which disqualified those votes from being counted. Thousands of voters claimed that they had voted for Reform Party candidate Patrick Buchanan by mistake, when they meant to vote for Gore.
Meanwhile, tensions between the candidates were running high. After Bush said it was only a matter of time before he was declared the victor, Gore campaign chairman William Daley bluntly told the Bush campaign to stop making such remarks. "I believe their actions ... run the risk of dividing the American people and creating confusion."
Gore campaign officials called for a recount by hand of ballots in several disputed Florida counties, and threatened legal action asking for a new vote in Palm Beach County. Republican officials said that the allegations were exaggerated, and that the disputed ballots had been legally approved. The last time presidential election results were formally disputed was in 1876.
Nationally, things were no less weird. After trailing Bush in the popular vote through much of Election Night, Gore later appeared to have won the popular vote by about 98,000 votes out of 97 million cast. But that doesn't make Gore the next President.
GORE COULD STILL LOSE
In the winner-take-all Electoral College system, the winner of a state receives all of that state's electoral votes, which are assigned to states according to population. If the Florida recount keeps the Sunshine State in the Bush column, Bush will become the first President since 1888 to win the office while losing the popular vote.
The Bush-Gore race also appears to have the narrowest Electoral College margin since 1916, when Woodrow Wilson drew 277 electoral votes and Charles Evans Hughes won 254.
This election proves that every vote counts, and polls taken of voters as they left the voting booths suggest that young voters played a large role in keeping Tuesday's election historically close. Voters aged 18 to 29 favored Gore over Bush 48 percent to 45 percent--though they made up only 16 percent of the voters.
Where do things go next? The Florida vote won't be final until at least November 17, the deadline for counting absentee ballots from overseas. With court cases looming, it could be days before a winner is declared--although it's also possible that one candidate or the other will determine that he can't win, and concede. So settle back and watch. Almost anything can happen in the coming days.
WINNING, YET LOSING
In two previous elections, the winner of the popular vote lost the electoral vote.
1876 Samuel J. Tilden (D) 50.97%, 184 electoral votes Winner: Rutherford B. Hayes (R) 47.95%, 185 electoral votes
1888 Grover Cleveland (D) 48.62%, 168 electoral votes Winner: Benjamin Harrison (R) 47.82%, 233 electoral votes
Election 2000: What the Results Mean
FOCUS: Americans Elect a New President. Which Issues Were Most Important?
To help students understand this year's tortured election process, especially the razor-thin Electoral College fight.
* Did the presidential election results, nationally and in your state, turn out the way you thought they would?
* How are the close races--for President and Congress--likely to affect the new President's ability to enact the programs he offered to the American people?
* What did the campaign teach you about the power of money and TV ads?
* Do you believe the Electoral College should be retained or abolished?
Map Analysis: Have students examine the election results. How did their state vote? Copy page 5 in the October 16 Teacher's Edition and distribute so students can compare how their state voted in 2000 and in 1996.
Electoral College: Two days after the election, Al Gore led George W. Bush by nearly 98,000 votes in the popular vote, yet the contest dragged on. What do the ballot confusion and the recount in Florida say about the election process? Tell students that the Founders set up an Electoral College of the "most enlightened and respectable citizens" because they feared ordinary people would not know enough about candidates to vote wisely. Was that a reasonable system in the 18th century? Is it a reasonable system today? Would the Founders keep this system if they returned to the U.S. today?
Vote/Discussion: How many students supported Gore, Bush, or other candidates? Do they believe their candidate was fairly treated by the election process this year?
Next, discuss the powers of the party that controls each house of Congress. Why is control important? Do students know the party affiliations of their state's current congressional delegation? (Check online at www.senate.gov and www.house.gov)
Research: You may refer students to "The Scorecard" on pages 15-17 of the October 16 student edition. Which of the issues profiled there do they believe were important in their area? What issues attracted swing voters--independent, middle-class, and largely female? How did Bush and groups? Gore appeal to these
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|Title Annotation:||2000 presidential election|
|Publication:||New York Times Upfront|
|Date:||Nov 13, 2000|
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