Unclear Winner in 2000 U.S. Presidential Election

Democratic Vice President Al Gore and Republican Texas Governor George W. Bush at their first debate
Presidential candidates Democratic Vice President Al Gore, left, and Republican Texas Governor George W. Bush arrive on stage for their first debate October 3, 2000 at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Newsmakers)

Although some thought the election between Vice President Al Gore (Democrat) and Texas Governor George W. Bush (Republican) in 2000 would be close, no one imagined that it would be that close.

The Candidates

Democratic candidate Al Gore was already a household name when he chose to run for president in 2000. Gore had just spent the last eight years (1993 to 2001) as vice president to President Bill Clinton.

Gore seemed to have a good chance at winning until he appeared stiff and stuffy during televised debates. Also, Gore had to distance himself from Clinton because of Clinton's involvement in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

On the other hand, Republican candidate George W. Bush, the governor of Texas, wasn't quite a household name yet; however, his dad (President George H.W. Bush) certainly was. Bush had to beat John McCain, a U.S. senator who had been a P.O.W. for over five years during the Vietnam War, to become the Republican nominee.

The presidential debates were fierce and it was unclear as to who would become the winner.

Too Close to Call

On the night of the U.S. election (Nov. 7-8, 2000), news stations waffled over the outcome, calling the election for Gore, then too close to call, then for Bush. By the morning, many were shocked that the election was again considered too close to call.

The election results hinged on a difference of just a few hundred votes in Florida (537 to be exact), which focused worldwide attention on the deficiencies of the voting system.

A recount of the votes in Florida was ordered and begun.

The U.S. Supreme Court Gets Involved

A number of court battles ensued. Debates over what constituted a countable vote filled courtrooms, news shows, and living rooms.

The count was so close that there were prolonged discussions about chads, the little pieces of paper that are punched out of a ballot.

As the public learned during this recount, there were many ballots where the chad had not been fully punched out. Depending on the degree of separation, these chads all had different names.

  • Hanging chads - Chads that were only attached by one corner
  • Swinging chads - Attached by two corners
  • Tri-chads - Attached by three corners
  • Dimpled and pregnant chads - Attached by all four corners but you can see an indention

To many, it seemed odd that it was these incompletely-punched-out chads that were to determine who would become the next U.S. president. 

Since there didn't seem a fair way to properly recount the votes, the U.S. Supreme Court decided on December 12, 2000 that the recount in Florida should stop.

The day following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision, Al Gore conceded defeat to George W. Bush, making Bush the official president-elect. On January 20, 2001, George W. Bush became the 43rd President of the United States.

Fair Outcome?

Many people were very upset with this outcome. To many, it didn't seem fair that Bush became President even though Gore had won the popular vote (Gore received 50,999,897 to Bush's 50,456,002).

In the end, however, the popular vote is not what matters; it's the electoral votes and Bush was the leader in electoral votes with 271 to Gore's 266.