THREE
Political Participation
in American Elections:
Who Decides What?

M. Margaret Conway

SPEAKING TO REPORTERS THE DAY AFTER THE PRESIDENTIAL election in 2000, President Bill Clinton commented, "Well, if ever there was a doubt about the importance of exercising democracy's most fundamental right, yesterday put it to rest. No American will ever be able to say, my vote doesn't count." 1 His comments were inspired by the most controversial and close presidential election since 1876, with the outcome of the election still in doubt more than a month after election day. Democratic party candidate A1 Gore received 200,000 more popular votes that Republican candidate George W. Bush, out of an estimated 104.5 million votes cast in the United States, but neither candidate had a majority in the Electoral College. More than four weeks after the election, the outcome of the election in Florida remained in doubt, and the outcome in Florida, with its 25 electoral votes, determined who the new president would be.

On election day, the television networks first predicted, at 7:45 PM Eastern Standard time, that Gore had won the Florida presidential contest, then at 10:30 PM changed their prediction to "too close to call." At 2: 15 AM the next morning they predicted a Bush victory by a few hundred votes. The victory was so narrow that under Florida law a recount of the vote in all counties was required. The networks' initial

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