ORLANDO, Fla. - Floridians have been waiting days to see who will officially be their next U.S. senator in the close race between Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson and Gov. Rick Scott, but this isn’t the first time they’ve had to wait out an election.
In 2000, Florida was the state that determined the winner of the presidential election, but it didn’t happen soon after the polls closed. In fact, it took weeks for America to get a final answer from the highest of courts.
Here are six things you may not remember about the 2000 presidential election between then-Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush and then-Democratic Vice President Al Gore.
Just how close it was
Everyone knew the race would be close, much like voters have said about the race between Nelson and Scott and Florida gubernatorial candidates Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis this year. But they didn’t know just how close it would be.
Since the first candidate to win 270 of the 538 Electoral College votes wins the race, both Gore and Bush were depending on Florida and its 29 electoral votes to claim a victory.
When the results were finally in – the next morning – numbers showed both candidates earned 49 percent of the 6 million votes cast statewide, according to PBS.
Bush was leading by 1,474 votes. It was eventually enough to earn Bush the title of president of the United States, but not without a fight.
There was a recount
Since the margin of victory in Florida was less than half a percentage point, state law called for a machine recount.
Two days and one recount later, Bush was still in the lead, but not by much: His margin of victory had shrunk even more to only 327 votes, according to Supreme.Justia.com.
There was almost another recount
Since the margin of victory had narrowed even more, Florida law allowed Gore to request a manual recount – and he did. Gore requested that a manual recount be conducted in four traditionally blue-leaning Florida counties – three in South Florida and one in Central Florida.
The counties began to fulfill his request, but when concerns grew over whether election officials would be able to meet deadlines and whether late filings from some of those counties should be accepted, then-Secretary of State Katherine Harris said she could not find reason as to why they should, Supreme.Justia.com reports.
Harris then declared Bush the winner in Florida. But the fight still wasn’t over.
How long it took
Even after Harris said Bush earned Florida’s votes, Gore kept fighting.
In December, weeks after Harris’ announcement, Gore’s team went to Florida’s Supreme Court to obtain an order for a statewide manual recount.The next day the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in, ordering a stay of the recount.
In that five-justice majority decision against the recount, justices expressed concern over the harm a recount could do to the democratic process. Justices in favor of the recount argued that not ordering a closer look at the race would be undermining the democratic process.
Hanging chad ballots
Another issue that presented itself when Gore requested a statewide recount was the fact that counties had different ways of conducting manual recounts, according to the justices.
One of the variables was that some of the ballots had what were known as “hanging chads,” which were places on the ballot that weren’t perforated all the way through because of a design flaw, according to Business Insider.
The flawed ballots made it difficult for machines to detect which candidate a voter had marked because the chad was still hanging. It was argued that there was no way to know for sure that those 9,000 defective ballots found in Florida would have been interpreted fairly or accurately if counted by hand.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling held and Bush became the 43rd president of the United States.
Years later, Supreme.Justia.com said some legal experts believe the U.S. Supreme Court overstepped its boundaries by addressing the election, which is outside of its powers. Others still feel it could have done more to point out the potential need for reform.
Things can change
Seeing how close of a race it was between Gore and Bush should remind voters that things can still change in the days following an election.
In the beginning of that nail-biting night, while votes were first being tallied, networks were quick to call the race in Florida in Gore’s favor, according to PBS.
A short time later, after Bush had won a number of other large states, many people, including Bush himself, questioned whether Florida should have been projected to be a win for Gore after all.
After more votes had been counted, the race became so close that networks had to again declare Florida as undecided.
As of midnight, both Gore and Bush had secured around 245 Electoral College votes, which meant one of them needed to win the race in Florida to earn their spot in the White House.
About two hours later, the networks said it was looking like Bush would win the Sunshine State -- so much so that Gore had already called Bush to congratulate him on the win and was ready to give his concession speech when numbers showed the race could again take a turn.
It was early into the next morning when Gore’s team called Bush’s team and said the race wasn’t over since it was just too close to call. And it wasn't until weeks later that the final outcome would be decided.
Could a similar situation unfold between Scott and Nelson?
Though Scott declared himself the winner over Nelson in this midterm election, Nelson is calling for a recount. Scott’s narrow lead, which has narrowed more since he claimed victory due to ballots still being counted, met the qualifications to undergo a manual recount as of Thursday evening.
Florida law provides for automatic recounts when the margin of victory for the winner and runner-up for an office is equal to or less than 0.5 percent, according to Ballotpedia.org. If the margin of victory is equal to or less than 0.25 percent, the recount must be done by hand.
The secretary of state must still officially say whether there will be a recount in any race.
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