The events of election night 2000 and the ensuing thirty-six days provide a striking example of the American electoral system's peculiarities. George W. Bush and Al Gore ended the presidential campaign with an excruciatingly close finish—so close in Florida that the state's slapdash system of election administration struggled for weeks to provide a definitive result. Florida's electoral votes, which the state had long awarded in a winner-take-all fashion, go to the candidate with a popular plurality. The candidate getting those electoral votes would win the presidency, though Gore won the popular vote by a bit more than 500,000 ballots. On election night, Bush led Gore in the state by 1,784 votes of almost 6 million cast statewide. A legally mandated machine recount completed a week after the election cut that margin to a mere 300 votes. Then the squabbling really heated up.
The strange events of 2000 put a spotlight on several shortcomings of the U.S. electoral system. America's decentralized system of election administration can produce unreliable results that make the outcome of any close election suspect. This quirky system often spawns charges of discrimination— in Florida in 2000, against racial minorities and veterans. The electoral college can and has delivered the presidency to candidates losing the popular vote. And the media often aggravate a difficult situation. They twice miscalled the Florida result on election night and frequently inflamed partisan hostility during the postelection controversies. In November and December 2000, the American election system's operations threatened political and governmental stability, producing new