This date in 2000 was a pivotal moment in U.S. history, as the presidential election results in a statistical tie between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George Bush. The results in Florida were unclear by the end of election night and resulted in a recount and a Supreme Court case, Bush v. Gore, which ended the dispute in favor of Bush a month later. The election exposed several flaws and controversial elements of the American electoral process and was the fourth of five U.S. presidential elections in which the winner lost the popular vote.
Gore was the sitting Vice President to then-president Bill Clinton, while Bush was the Governor of Texas and son of former president George H.W. Bush. In the national popular vote, Gore received 48.4 percent while Bush received 47.9, losing by over 540,000 votes. U.S. presidents, however, are chosen by the Electoral College, a system in which “electoral votes” are assigned to states based on their population and then awarded as a lump sum to the winner of the popular vote in that state—currently, it takes 270 electoral votes to win. By the end of Election Night, 2000, Gore’s tally stood at 250 and Bush’s stood at 246 with Oregon, Wisconsin and Florida too close to call.
READ MORE: Why Was the Electoral College Created?
Oregon and Wisconsin went to Gore in the following days, but Florida’s 25 electoral votes made it the key to victory for both candidates. The initial result there put Bush in front, but it was close enough to trigger an automatic recount. The ensuing saga involved multiple legal battles, recounts and calls for further recounts, and numerous debates about the methods used to record votes. On December 12, the Supreme Court ordered an end to the Florida recount and Gore conceded to Bush.
Many have suggested that the perceived partisan nature of Court’s decision—every justice who sided with Bush had been appointed by a Republican—damaged the public’s faith in the judicial system. The 2000 election was the first since the 1960 election between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon that did not yield a clear result on election night or the following morning. It was the first time since 1888 that the winning candidate had lost the popular vote, although the next such election came only 16 years later when Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton. Both elections led to calls for the abolition of the Electoral College in favor of a simpler “one person, one vote” system, but there has been no serious push to enact such a reform.