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Paper Topic Ideas

Summary of the Bush/Gore Dispute in the U.S. Presidential Election, 2000

In November 2000, the election for the President of the United States was one of the closest in the United States history.  Both parties were aware of the trend within three months before.  During that time, many polls continued to fluctuate, showing candidates Bush and Gore ahead at different times, usually within the statistical margin of error.  Neither party, however, expected the outcome to be as close as it did.  The outcome of the election was not known until five weeks after the election.

While outcomes were close in quite a few states, (New Mexico, Oregon, Wisconsin, Iowa and New Hampshire-- all within less than seven thousand), the one in question was Florida, a state that had enough electoral votes (25) to determine the election.   Election 2000 would become the first election since 1888 where there was a difference between the popular vote and the electoral vote-- Vice President Al Gore leading Governor George W. Bush by a little over 500,000 votes while Governor George W. Bush leading Vice President Al Gore in the Electoral College by four votes (271-267).  The state of Florida being the one to decide was made even more dramatic as Jeb Bush, George W. Bush's brother, was its governor.  Furthermore, Florida was probably the most campaigned state by both candidates as polls there continued to show Gore with a slight lead (but always within the margin of error).  To make the certainty of the winner of Florida even more blurry, broadcast networks declared Al Gore the winner earlier in the evening, retracted, and then later declared Bush the winner as well as the winner of the Presidency before again, retracting.

The outcome first revealed that out of more than six million votes cast in Florida, Bush led by a slim margin of around 1700 votes.  After a machine recount required by Florida law, the margin slipped to below 500.  Vice President Al Gore filed a protest and later a contest to the election through the Courts, asking for a hand recount in selected Florida counties that leaned Democratic.  The grounds for both the protest and contest was that these counties: Palm Beach, Broward, Miami Dade, and Volusia was that these four had signs of voting irregularities.   Irregularites included the quality of the voting tabulation machines and also that certain types of ballots could possibly be misread by machines.  While the media highly featured a particular ballot used in Palm Beach County that some voters claimed confused them to vote for a third party candidate, Pat Buchanan, when they intended to vote for Gore, the main type of ballot that was in question was the punch card ballot.  The punch card ballot is one where the voter uses a stylus to punch holes, marking their choices.  At times the "chad," the piece of paper that is punched may be left hanging, or may still be so attached that only an indentation is left (a "dimple").  Florida Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, insisting on a Florida statute deadline for certification of the voting tally and questioning whether counties can conduct a hand recount, continued to block efforts of counties conducting a hand count.  Democrats questioned the Republican Secretary of State's motives as she was also the co-chair of the Bush campaign in Florida.

The Florida Supreme Court stepped in twice allowing recounts to commence, the second time around coming close to what a majority of the country wanted-- a hand recount of the entire state in Florida.  By then some hand counts had occurred and were included in the total, dwindling Bush's uncertified lead to less than 200 votes (the certified lead was 537).  Due to a looming deadline for Florida to name its electors within days (December 12), the Florida Supreme Court on December 8 ruled in a 4-3 vote that only "undervotes" of all counties will be hand counted and then added to the total (undervotes are ballots that machines could not read a presidential choice).

However the United States Supreme Court over-ruled the Florida Supreme Court, questioning the Constitutionality of counting only the undervotes and the lack of standards to determine the intent of the voter (the "intent of the voter" was the only definition Florida Law gave in determining when a vote counts).  The lack of standards had enabled different counties to consider a vote using different methods, making equal treatment of the ballots fall into question, thus clashing with the Equal Protection Clause in the U.S. Constitution.   On remedying the Constitutional problem, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Florida Supreme Court had to come up with another solution on how hand counts should be conducted.  However with the deadline to submit the names of electoral voters only being two hours away from the time the U.S. Supreme Court submitted its opinion, that remedy was impossible.  So the five justices argued that since the deadline is here, no more recounts can occur, and thus the certified winner (Bush) stands.  The split of the Supreme Court decision appeared deeply partisan-- five conservative leaning judges consenting and four liberal leaning judges dissenting.  Many legal experts  questioned whether December 12 was the "drop dead" deadline date considering electors do not vote until December 18 and that in the past some states didn't even send their electors over until even after the stated date, but were included when Congress read the vote in January.  However, if a state did not name its electors by December 12, the U.S. Congress would have had grounds to question the state's electors and that would have led to a Constitutional crisis.

In an election that had an outcome of an almost split House of Representatives (five seat difference) and an evenly split Senate (50-50), this historical election makes many political pundits declare the nation to be "Divided."

Written by Norman Buchwald, Information Literacy and Technology Librarian, Chabot College

Some Possible Paper Topics--you should narrow any of these topics further before beginning your research
 
How Other States Conduct Election Recounts Past Election Disputes in the State of Florida
Other Close Presidential Elections in United States' History Balance of Powers in Government regarding elections
Arguments concerning the "Intent of the Voter"
(When is a vote a vote?)
Disenfranchisement of particular groups of voters in elections?
Media Coverage of United States Elections Election Reform Efforts (since Election 2000)
The Electoral College One or More of the Other Close States in Election 2000

For most of the examples given above, you will most often be searching for articles on your subject, as recent interest in this topic is still new

Note: The above list are possible paper topics, but you MUST come up with a search strategy to effectively research these topics, including coming up with search terms for your topic.  Coming up with the best search terms is not always easy. Each database practically has their own vocabulary when it comes to grouping relevant books and articles together.  For example, the official subject heading used in the Library Catalog for United States' Presidential Elections is: Presidents--United States--Election

For tips on how to develop an effective search strategy, go to the site below:

Your Search Strategy
        http://www.chabotcollege.edu/Library/handouts/Eng102/strategy.html

For tips on finding articles to your subject, go to the site below:

Finding Articles
        http://www.chabotcollege.edu/Library/handouts/election2000pf.html

We also have a guide to particular web sites that you could use for your paper or to come up with ideas for your topic:

Election 2000 Library Research Guide
        http://www.chabotcollege.edu/Library/onlineref/election2000.html

If you need help coming up with search terms, consult the Library of Congress Subject Headings at the reference desk or use thesaurii to come up with other terms.  A reference librarian is available on the left side of the circulation/reference desk at all hour the Library is open!
 


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This web site was last updated on December 19, 2000.
 If you have any questions or want to suggest any additions, please contact
Norman Buchwald, Information Literacy and Technology Librarian.
 ©2000, Chabot College