The infamous 2000 presidential election produced hanging chads, butterfly ballots, endless recounts, raucous allegations, and a constitutional crisis-until a controversial Supreme Court decision allowed George W. Bush to become president despite losing the popular vote to Al Gore. Charles L. Zelden presents the definitive history of this vexing and acrimonious affair, offering the most complete, up-to-date, and accurate analysis of a remarkable episode in American politics. Zelden probes deeper than any other scholar has sought to do—showing that both the election controversy of 2000 and Bush v. Gore signaled major flaws in our electoral system that remain with us today, exposing a hidden crisis in American democracy.
Zelden, who lives and teaches in Broward County (one of the key recount sites), distills the voluminous literature on Bush v. Gore in his sharply insightful and balanced account of the election crisis and the litigation that followed. Tracing the back-and-forth between concessions and retractions, Gore and Bush attorneys, and state and federal courts, he underscores the extraordinary clock-ticking tension between statutory deadlines governing the electoral process and the desire to have every vote counted and counted accurately.
Zelden offers a nonpartisan analysis of the legal opinions in the case, particularly the Supreme Court's ruling; he explores the judicial philosophy underlying the reasoning of each justice. His book invites readers to consider the case independent of their personal views of the candidates and reorients our view of the crisis to emphasize the failures of the system rather than the election of a president by apparent judicial decree. He sets all of these events, issues, and legal rulings within their proper historical context, making complex issues easy to understand and also reviewing events of the succeeding seven years in light of the decision.
As Zelden shows, the true tragedy of 2000 was the failure of every person and every institution involved—especially the Supreme Court—to take this crisis as an opportunity to diagnose the problems of our broken electoral system and to urge its repair. We may prefer to put this decision behind us, but we ignore it—and its lessons—at our peril.