Bush v. Gore

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No presidential election in recent memory was as close as the 2000 race between Vice President Al Gore and then-Governor George W. Bush. After all the other states were decided, Florida was still in play the morning after Election Day, with Bush leading Gore by only 1,800 votes. With the race so tight, Gore initiated the process of recounting the ballots in four Florida counties. With each recount, the gap between the two men got smaller.

Before the recounts could be completed, however, the Supreme Court, in a bitterly divided five to four unsigned decision, declared that the recount procedures were unconstitutional and must stop. The Florida Secretary of States certification of the results prior to the recount was allowed to stand, and George W. Bush became president.

 

 Bush v. Gore

 

531 U.S. 98 (2000)

Syllabus

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF FLORIDA

No. 00-949. Argued December 11, 2000-Decided December 12,2000

On December 8, 2000, the Florida Supreme Court ordered, inter alia, that manual recounts of ballots for the recent Presidential election were required in all Florida counties where so-called "undervotes" had not been subject to manual tabulation, and that the manual recounts should begin at once. Noting the closeness of the election, the court explained that, on the record before it, there could be no question that there were uncounted "legal votes"-i. e., those in which there was a clear indication of the voter's intent-sufficient to place the results of the election in doubt. Petitioners, the Republican candidates for President and Vice President who had been certified as the winners in Florida, filed an emergency application for a stay of this mandate. On December 9, this Court granted the stay application, treated it as a petition for a writ of certiorari, and granted certiorari.

Held: Because it is evident that any recount seeking to meet 3 U. S. C. § 5's December 12 "safe-harbor" date would be unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause, the Florida Supreme Court's judgment ordering manual recounts is reversed. The Clause's requirements apply to the manner in which the voting franchise is exercised. Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, Florida may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person's vote over that of another. See, e. g., Harper v. Virginia Bd. of Elections, 383 U. S. 663, 665. The recount mechanisms implemented in response to the state court's decision do not satisfy the minimum requirement for nonarbitrary treatment of voters. The record shows that the standards for accepting or rejecting contested ballots might vary not only from county to county but indeed within a single county from one recount team to another. In addition, the recounts in three counties were not limited to so-called undervotes but extended to all of the ballots. Furthermore, the actual process by which the votes were to be counted raises further concerns because the court's order did not specify who would recount the ballots. Where, as here, a court orders a statewide remedy, there must be at least some assurance that the rudimentary requirements of equal treatment and fundamental fairness are satisfied. The State has not shown that its procedures include the necessary safeguards. Upon due consideration of the difficulties identified to this point, it is obvious that the recount cannot be conducted in compliance with the requirements of equal protection and due process without substantial additional work. The court below has said that the legislature intended the State's electors to participate fully in the federal electoral process, as provided in 3 U. S. C. § 5, which requires that any controversy or contest that is designed to lead to a conclusive selection of electors be completed by December 12. That date is here, but there is no recount procedure in place under the state court's order that comports with minimal constitutional standards.

772 So. 2d 1243, reversed and remanded.

To read the rest of the opinion in Bush v. Gore, go to Nolos US Supreme Court Center.

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