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The Election of 2000
History in the making - that's what they called the election of 2000, but not until after the election should have been over. A month after Election Day, the United States was still unsure about who its next President would be.
Vice President Al Gore and Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman headed the Democratic ticket. Texas Governor George Bush and former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney headed the Republican ticket. For weeks before the election, polls showed Gore and Bush running neck and neck, too close to call nationally and in many states. Add to the mix the popularity of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader and a handful of other third-party candidates, such as the Reform Party's Pat Buchanan, the results from election night promised to be very interesting. And they were.
In 2000, Election Day fell on Tuesday, November 7, 2000. Electors must have been appointed by December 12, 2000. Electoral College Day was Monday, December 18. The deadline for receipt of the electoral votes by the President of the Senate was Wednesday, December 27, 2000. Congress convened on Wednesday, January 3, 2001. The electoral votes were counted in a joint session of Congress on January 6, 2001. Inauguration Day was Saturday, January 20, 2001.
The networks were chomping at the bit to be the first out of the starting gate, and when 7 pm Eastern time rolled by, they were ready to start making predictions. Vermont was an easy pick, with exit polls showing the state firmly in Gore's camp. Other states quickly fall into one camp or the other, including Florida into Gore's column. The networks had vowed, as in the past, not to call an election until all of the polls in a certain state had all closed - one problem in Florida is that part of the panhandle is in the Central time zone, and when Florida was called, some polls were still open.
Bush pulled out with an early lead, but with just a handful of states accounted for even a 40 point deficit was nothing for Gore to be worried about. As the night wore on, the networks began to hedge on Florida - though polling data showed Gore with the lead there, actual returns were starting to look to be more in Bush's favor. By 10 o'clock, most of the networks had taken Florida out of Gore's column and placed it back into the undecided column.
For several hours, as more and more states came in and more and more projections were made, Bush and Gore swapped the lead, finally settling on a 242-242 electoral vote tie. This projection was made in the late hours of the evening . and in the wee hours of the morning, returns from now-crucial Florida, with its 25 votes, began to swing in Bush's favor. Many networks call Florida for Bush and are able to declare him the winner at 2:15 a.m. Ready to concede to Bush, Gore placed a call. In the later words of Barbara Bush, "I was the mother of a President for about 30 minutes." Before Gore could give his concession speech, his advisors watched the web site for the Florida Board of Elections and watched as Bush's lead waned, at one point down to only 200 votes. His advisors told him that it was too close, and Gore had to call Bush to retract his concession. The networks flip-flopped again, taking Florida out of Bush's column and placing it back into the undecided group.
Bush had a lead of about 1700 votes in Florida, out of almost 6 million cast. Florida law demands a recount in such a close count, and as if the week decided it could not be outdone by the night, the wheels are set in motion for an electoral horse race.
With a recount triggered, the nation waited. With a margin of victory of only 1700 votes, anything could happen. Things that usually are not relevant to victory suddenly became so. Overseas absentee ballots are a perfect example. Florida, by law, did not finish counting them until November 17. With several thousand ballots sent out, and more coming back all the time, they could make for a decisive win one way or the other. Different balloting methods were examined and called into question, including one done by punching perforated holes out of ballot cards. This so-called butterfly ballot design was the source of complaints by many, mostly seniors, that the ballot was confusing and charges that the design caused an abnormally high number of votes for Buchanan in one county the ballot was used. Calls for a re-vote in one populous county were eventually denied on November 20th.
Quick recounts were done immediately following Election Day, and in doing so the final vote tally changed from a margin if over 1700 votes for Bush to one of just over 300 votes. In Palm Beach county, 19,000 ballots were found to be spoiled and were discarded. More Floridians began to demand a re-vote, something unprecedented in electoral history, and all eventually denied. The Gore campaign started to issue calls for, and eventually court hearings demanding, a manual recount of votes.
Meanwhile, with the outcome of Florida uncertain, other states start to show signs of trouble. In New Mexico, Gore had an early lead, but a programming error was found that pushed Bush into the lead. His lead was so slim as to trigger a recount. During recounts, as few as four votes separated them, before another error was found that gave Gore a 500 vote advantage. In Oregon, which uses a mail-in ballot only, delays in counting votes caused the election returns to be delayed, though Gore maintained a more sizeable lead (though still "slim": 5000 votes out of 1.4 million). Both camps began to eye close races in other states, to see if recounts might be warranted. Neither New Mexico nor Oregon alone or combined would win the election for either man, but some other combination of states could.
On November 14, 2000, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris was handed a court ruling that upheld her order that all counties in Florida must have certified election returns in to her office by 5:00 pm on that day (by Florida statute, one week following the election). The judge did specifically say, however, that the Secretary may not summarily dismiss amended returns that were sent in after the deadline. In the certified returns, Bush held a 300-vote lead. On the 15th, several counties decided to proceed with recounts, trying to beat the November 17th deadline for overseas absentee ballots. Heavy hitters from both parties were out in force in Florida, with former US Secretary of State Warren Christopher heading the Gore team, and former US Secretary of State James Baker heading the Bush team.
Ten days after the election, the controversy swirled around two key questions in Florida. First, was it legal for some counties to do a manual recount of ballots? And second, was it legal for the Florida Secretary of State to reject the recount numbers after the statutory deadline had passed. Several counties were counting ballots by hand, bolstered by a terse ruling from the Florida Supreme Court that said they could continue, though the ruling spoke nothing of the second point. Lawyers for the Bush campaign tried to stop all hand recounts, saying that hand recounting is inherently error-prone and subject to bias. The Gore camp argued that hand counts has been used for centuries and that the only way to instill faith in the election outcome was to resolve nagging count concerns.
Though the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the Florida vote could not be certified until after it had heard arguments from both sides, pushing the deadline to no earlier than the 20th of November, the counting of overseas absentee ballots went ahead as planned. The reported results were highly in Bush's favor, giving him an eventual state-wide lead of 930 votes. Legal wrangling continued through the end of the week, with most court rulings pointing toward allowing manual recounts of ballots. Democrats said that the process provided the most accurate way of counting, where the Republicans countered that hand counting was fraught with human error or deliberate tampering. Over the weekend, with the state Supreme Court's ruling to back them, several counties proceeded with a manual recount.
The Florida Supreme Court heard two and a half hours of arguments from both the Bush and Gore camps on the 20th. The Gore camp argued that there is no hurry to the certification of the election, since US law states that electors do not need to be appointed until December 12. The counties that wished to do recounts ought to be done with the recounts by that time, and the Court should err on the side of caution, allowing every ballot to be counted. The Bush camp argued that the more time that slips by, the more chance there is for fraud in the recount process that Florida law plainly states when the counting and recounting deadlines are and that it is not the place of the judiciary to step on the shoes of the executive departments charged with certifying the election in law duly passed by the legislature. For a day and a half, the Court deliberated on the issue.
On the 21st of November, late in the evening, the Court did rule, saying that the Florida Secretary of State must continue to accept returns from counties doing recounts, but setting a deadline of no later than 5 p.m. on November 26th (as this is a Sunday, the Court stated that if the Secretary's office was not to be open, then an alternate deadline of 9 a.m. on November 27th would substitute - the Secretary assured Floridians that her office would be open on the 26th). The 43-page ruling did not address some issues, such as the countability of some of the ballots. The date chosen by the Court were designed to allow ample time for manual recounts to be finished, and to allow ample time for either candidate to protest the results under Florida law, and still meet the December 12th date set in US law for the appointment of electors.
Vice President Gore appeared on national TV that night, saying that he thought democratic principles were prevailing. He also put the kibosh on some thoughts of asking Bush electors to defect to the Gore camp on Electoral College Day, stating plainly that he did not want to short-circuit the constitutional process.
In Florida's Broward and Palm Beach Counties, manual recounts which started prior to the Supreme Court ruling continued unabated. But in populous Dade County, the canvassing board finally decided not to do any manual recounting, considering the time provided by the Court to still be too little to recount its over 600,000 votes. A proposal to examine all "under vote" ballots (those rejected by the machine counters because of no Presidential preference indicated) was rejected. Initial returns from the other two counties showed only small net gains, but in both directions - Palm Beach for Bush, Broward for Gore, and counting continued through the Thanksgiving holiday. The Bush camp, on the 22nd, appealed the Florida Supreme Court's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Not ready to rest on its laurels, the Bush camp also filed suits on the 25th and 26th against several counties over the counting, or non-counting, of overseas absentee ballots. Armed with the knowledge that the majority of uncounted votes were from military personnel whose ballots did not meet technical requirements such as proper postmarks, the Bush team had a strong military following. The argument was that just as partially poked holes are being counted as proof of voter intent in Broward and Palm Beach counties, a signed ballot, even if not valid under other technicalities, should imply intent on the part of the absentee voter.
Adding drama to the already exciting, or perhaps arduous, story, Republican Vice Presidential hopeful Cheney was hospitalized on the 22nd for what doctors called a minor heart attack. Speculation began to fly about how the Electoral College would handle it if Cheney could not serve. The situation was not without precedent, however, and confidence in the College despite Cheney's health was as high (or as low, depending to whom you spoke) as ever. Cheney was released a few days after being admitted, promoting the notion of healthful living.
Florida Secretary of State Harris's office was open for business on Sunday the 26th, in order to receive any recount numbers and for the purpose of certifying the election. In accordance with the trend of the three weeks past, there was no lack of drama. In Palm Beach County, the canvassing board raced to finish counting ballots before the 5pm deadline. When it was apparent that they would need a couple extra hours, the board sent partial recounts to the Secretary and pleaded for extra time. The Secretary denied the extra time and rejected the partial numbers. She used the county's previous recount numbers instead, and certified the election: By a vote total of 2,912,790 to 2,912,253, or a difference of 537 votes, Bush was certified the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes.
Bush supporters were ecstatic, and Bush himself appeared on TV on the evening of November 26th to ask the Gore camp to accept the certification and stop any legal proceedings. He announced the appointment of his chief of staff and announced that Cheney would be heading the transition team. But the Gore team was not ready to give up. It was angry about the rejection of the Palm Beach results, and was also challenging the lack of hand recounts in several counties (Florida law requires that multi-county challenges be heard in one county, causing hope for quick and uniform settlement). In addition, in Seminole County, individual voters were challenging absentee ballots that had been sent after ballot applications were allegedly altered by Republican workers to fill in missing required information, and in two counties, local Republicans challenged the disqualification of overseas ballots that had not been properly postmarked.
Officially, the election entered the "contest" phase, a period of time following certification in which challenges to election results could be filed. So though it seemed like the end, the Secretary's announcement on the 26th was really just another beginning.
Gore went on TV on the evening of the 27th to explain his position. To justify the continued court challenges, he said that "ignoring votes means ignoring democracy itself." He vowed to try to ensure that every vote in Florida is counted, regardless of whom the winner would then turn out to be. He cited some counties where thousands of votes had gone uncounted since Election Day, and blamed Republicans for blocking efforts to count all ballots. Most pundits agreed that both Bush and Gore had valid points to make, but that Gore was the one under the gun. Americans were being patient, but their patience was not unlimited.
In a move some found surprising, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear part of the Bush's November 22nd appeal. Though it rejected several of Bush's points of appeal, it did agree to hear arguments a week later, on December 1, concerning the ruling of the Florida Court that allowed hand recounts in some counties but not all. Bush argued that this was a violation of the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. The Court set a very tight schedule for the filing of arguments and replies. The Court asked that both sides address what they thought the consequences would be if the Court found the Florida election to not be in accordance with 3 USC 5, which deals with the appointment of electors. It also rejected an appeal of a decision not to halt the manual recounts, effectively allowing the counties still counting to continue to do so unfettered.
On Friday, December 1, the Court heard the oral arguments from both sides. The hearing was remarkable in several ways. First, both sides were given 45 minutes to present their case, 15 minutes more than normal. Second, audio tapes of the hearing were released soon after the hearing was over, a direct departure from the normal end-of-term release of tapes. Lastly, the speed at which the case had been heard and with which the justices returned with a verdict was very unusual.
The contest phase of the election was in full swing when Florida's legislature decided that it needed to be prepared. On December 12, according to federal law, electors had to be selected. Most agreed that there was no flexibility in this date. It was possible, the legislature believed, that the court cases concerning the election might not be resolved by the 12th, and rather than be caught by surprise, Republican-dominated legislature started to plan a possible special session. The Gore camp appeared ready to prevent this in any way possible, asking the judge in the Leon County recount case to expedite the proceedings. Gore also asked for an ordered recount of disputed ballots in Dade and Palm Beach, a request which was denied. The judge did agree that all of those two counties' ballots should be moved to Tallahassee, where the case was being heard. The ballots in question numbered just about a million.
The judge in the case, N. Sanders Sauls, opened his court on the Saturday immediately after the Supreme Court hearing. His task was to decide if the recounts of the Palm Beach and Dade county ballots should proceed. Throughout the day on Saturday the 2nd, and almost the entire next day, the judge heard testimony from dozens of witnesses, on topics ranging from voting machines to statistics. One voter testified to about his decision not to vote, and he wondered if he might have somehow marked the ballot unintentionally. The Bush team used its witness to call into question the entire "dimpled chad" question, or, whether or not a mark on a push-hole ballot could be made in error. The Gore team focused on 80 years of Florida election law to make the case that Gore's request for a recount is not unusual and has much precedent in Florida's election history.
Sauls promised, after closing arguments late Sunday night, to render a decision the next day.
Meanwhile, in Seminole county, the suit brought by voters in which the Gore camp had not joined, was starting to gain attention - in that case, it is alleged that Republican Party workers filled in incomplete absentee ballot requests, which the plaintiffs argue should necessitate the elimination of all the county's 15,000 absentee ballots. The other cases brought by Bush supporters also were still in the works, most to ask that rejected overseas ballots be counted.
After just a few days, on December 4, the U.S. Supreme Court returned with their verdict in the case they had heard. The aspect of that case was whether the Florida Supreme Court overstepped its bounds in extending the tally submission deadline from the 14th to the 26th. On the 14th, Bush had a 930-vote lead over Gore, and after the 26th it had changed to a 537-vote lead. The immediate effects of the U.S. Supreme Court decision were not apparent, though Leon County Judge Sauls put off his decision until after he reviewed the opinion.
Technically, the Supreme Court ruling did not invalidate the ruling of the Florida Supreme Court - it merely "set it aside." The opinion was unsigned, meaning that it is unknown how many of the justices voted for the course of action. The Court remanded, or sent back, the case to the Florida Supreme Court so that that court might have a chance to better explain the reasons for why it extended the deadline. It declined to rule on the legality or constitutionality of the Florida Court's ruling. The ruling did not change the 537-vote lead as the Bush camp had hoped.
Judge Sauls did put off his decision in the Leon County case to review the Supreme Court decision, but there was little to review - the two cases were not related in any legal way. So just a few hours late, on December 4, 2000, Sauls ruled on the Palm Beach County and Dade County recount contests. He found that there was no evidence presented by the plaintiff (Gore) to suggest that a hand recount of the ballots in question would change the outcome of the election. He rejected Gore's arguments on all counts. Immediately the Gore camp appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, but the feeling in Florida and in Washington was that the end was near. The Florida Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal directly, without going through normal appeals court processes, at least in part because the deadline for selecting electors was now just a week away. The Gore challenge was now much tougher - they could only argue that Sauls had made errors in his conduct of the hearings or in his ruling, a standard few seemed to believe could be proven.
The Florida Supreme Court announced that it would hear the appeal on Thursday the 7th of December, with written arguments to be filed by noon the day before. Pundits on both sides of the political spectrum saw this as Gore's last chance, most saying that even if other options were available following the Supreme Court decision, Gore should concede if he lost. Gore, putting on a brave face, said in a news conference on the 5th that he was "optimistic." Bush, on the other hand, had the luxury of being the defendant, and was using the time to explore options for his staff and Cabinet. Bush also got his first national security briefing from the CIA, at the request of the Clinton administration (Gore, as Vice President, already got a daily briefing).
On the evening of the 5th, Bush appeared for his first full television interview since the election. In it, he expressed his belief that he had won the electoral vote, but insisted on being called "Governor" and not "President-elect," because of all the outstanding suits. He also declined to call for Gore to concede nor did he fault Gore for his efforts, saying that both he and Gore had "poured our heart and soul" into the campaign.
With victory in the Florida Supreme Court appearing to be unlikely, all eyes turned to court cases in Seminole and Martin Counties. Both were brought by local Democrats that accused Republican election workers of altering absentee ballot applications, by adding or fixing missing information, and, in the Martin County case, of removing the applications from the county election supervisor's office. Though the Gore team was not a party to the cases, both of which had hearings held on December 6th, many said that Gore's best chances hinged on them. The plaintiffs were seeking to have all absentee ballots thrown out, a move which could put Gore far into the lead, since Bush won a vast majority of the ballots. The Seminole County case contested 15,000 ballots, the Martin County case about 10,000. Both cases were heard in the circuit court in Leon County. Another suit filed in Bay County alleges that Florida Governor Jeb Bush sent letters to residents illegally urging them to stay home and vote by absentee ballot instead of at the polls. It sought to affect some 20,000 ballots.
Not to be outdone, state Republicans contested the rules used to throw out some overseas absentee ballots in seven counties. The GOP claimed in particular that procedures used disenfranchised military personnel in particular. The suit stated that the lack of a postmark on mail coming from military post offices should not be used as a basis to exclude a ballot. The suit is similar to one filed earlier by the GOP against 14 counties, but later dropped. The case was heard in U.S. District Court on the 5th.
In the Florida Legislature, as the December 12th federal deadline for the appointment of electors drew near, arrangements were being made to hold a special session to appoint those electors if the legal challenges were not yet complete by the deadline.
The Seminole County hearing was held all day on the 6th, and the Martin County hearing was held in sessions book-ending the Seminole County hearing, with testimony running until midnight. There was general agreement that technical violations of the law occurred, but the issue was whether or not the violations amounted to fraud. The Democratic lawyers tried to paint the filling in of missing data on absentee ballot applications as a grand conspiracy, while Republican lawyers tried to paint the same acts as those of well-meaning political workers trying to ensure that a Party error did not disenfranchise voters. Both trials continued on the 7th, marking one month since Election Day, with closing arguments in both setting up rulings the next day.
Also on the 7th, the Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Gore appeal of the case denied by Judge Sauls. The justices seemed skeptical that the requested recount could be completed by the December 12th deadline, but Democratic lawyers assured the Court that the recount would be finished if allowed. Republican lawyers' main argument against the recount was that the courts had no business ruling in the case at all. After just over an hour of oral arguments, the justices took the case under consideration, promising a rapid response.
Other possible trouble loomed for the Bush/Cheney ticket on the 7th, outside of Florida. A federal court granted a hearing on the issue of whether Cheney was a resident of Texas. Cheney claimed residency in Wyoming, though he had physically lived in Texas for quite some time before changing his status. If he was found to be a resident of Texas, Texas electors would not be able to vote for both Bush and Cheney, according to the 12th Amendment. Though several lower courts had thrown out the case, the appeals court decided to take up the issue. The issue sounded worse than it was as the press misreported that no elector can vote for two people from the same state. The seriousness of the issue was no less important for Texas electors, however, because of the closeness of the election. But quickly the judges in the case ruled that Cheney met the constitutional requirements for citizenship in Wyoming, clearing the way for all Republican electors to vote for both Bush and Cheney.
December 8, 2000 was lined up to be a fateful day for the Gore campaign. Rulings in both absentee ballot application cases were expected, along with one from the Florida Supreme Court, and a special session of the Legislature to consider its appointment electors. Though delayed, the judges in the Seminole and Martin County cases both ruled that the absentee ballots were not to be thrown out, with one judge saying that though there were irregularities, the integrity of the election had not been violated. The Gore team, which had been watching the cases but had never been a party to them, looked to the Supreme Court for the last ruling. The Florida Supreme Court, on the 12th, upheld the decisions in the Seminole and Martin County cases.
After weeks of defeats, many felt the Supreme Court would deal the final blow - but instead, in a split 4-3 decision, the Florida Court ruled that not only did the disputed Dade and Palm Beach county undervote ballots have to be hand counted, but all undervotes in the whole state would have to be recounted. Because of the time crunch, the Court ordered the counts begin immediately. Additionally, the Court added unaccounted votes from Palm Beach and Dade Counties, cutting Bush's lead from 537 votes to 154. But the victory was short-lived. Though statewide standards were set and some actual counting got under way, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in on Saturday, December 9th. By a 5-4 vote, it stopped all recounts and called for a hearing on the morning of the 11th, to hear arguments as to the legality of the newly ordered recount. Once again the courts were extending the process . and polls showed more and more people were tiring.
Amid raucous protests outside, the U.S. Supreme Court met on the morning of the 11th. Bush's attorneys asked the court to uphold its stay of the recounts, charging that the Florida Supreme Court far over stepped its bounds in ordering the recount. It called the Court's recounting scheme "arbitrary, capricious, unequal, and standardless," and a violation of the Article 2 powers of the state legislature to decide how electors are to be chosen. The Gore team countered that the Florida Court was simply interpreting the laws provided by the Florida legislature, as all courts do, and urged the U.S. Supreme Court to rule promptly so that counting could be completed before the December 12th Title 3 federal deadline for selection of electors.
December 12, the day that 3 USC 5 said that electors must be chosen, came in like a rush. What would the Florida Legislature do? What about the Supreme Court? The legislature did what it felt it had to do to ensure that Florida was represented in the Electoral College. On the 12th, its House voted 79-41 to approve the Bush slate of electors. The State Senate decided to wait until the 13th to take up the issue, hoping the Supreme Court will have ruled by then.
The decision came at a late hour, 10 p.m. Eastern time, and it did not bode well for Gore. By a vote of 7-2, the Court said that the Florida Supreme Court had erred in calling for a manual recount. But by only a 5-4 vote, it declared that the counting of the undervotes only amounted to a violation of the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause. It sent the case back to the Florida Supreme Court, essentially saying that there may be remedies for Gore, but whatever the remedy, it could not include a recount. With a recount seeming to be the only possible way of keeping Gore's chances alive, the contest appeared to finally be over. Calls from even ardent supporters began to ring out - Gore should finally concede the election.
The Gore team decided to take the night to examine the decision and see if any options were left open. By early next morning, it was clear that there weren't. The Vice President prepared to address the nation on the evening of the 13th, as did the Governor an hour thereafter.
As expected Gore conceded in his speech. He commented on the Supreme Court ruling days before, saying "Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court's decision, I accept it." At the same time, he called for all Americans to unite behind President Bush: "I personally will be at his disposal, and I call on all Americans — I particularly urge all who stood with us to unite behind our next president. This is America. Just as we fight hard when the stakes are high, we close ranks and come together when the contest is done." Gore concluded by saying: "As for the battle that ends tonight, I do believe as my father once said, that no matter how hard the loss, defeat might serve as well as victory to shape the soul and let the glory out."
Bush's speech, given from the floor of the Texas House, was conciliatory. Bush was clearly trying to build a bipartisan feeling from the starting gate: "Tonight I chose to speak from the chamber of the Texas House of Representatives because it has been a home to bipartisan cooperation. We've had spirited disagreements. And in the end, we found constructive consensus. It is an experience I will always carry with me, an example I will always follow." He promised to serve to the best of his ability, to be a President for all Americans: "I was not elected to serve one party, but to serve one nation. The president of the United States is the president of every single American, of every race and every background. Whether you voted for me or not, I will do my best to serve your interests and I will work to earn your respect."
The race run, the challenges over, the decision made, the electorate breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Throughout the nation, people began to take second looks at the Electoral College system. Gore was pretty clearly the popular vote winner, though only by about 500,000 votes out of over 100 million cast. Subjects that used to cause students' eyes to glaze over in civics class were suddenly the focus of barroom, water cooler, and dinner table discussions. Rumors and theories were flying about like so many swarms of mosquitoes. News organizations began their own counts of the disputed ballots, once they became public records, in an attempt to put the issue to rest and to find out, in the words of the Miami Herald, "What went wrong." Most found that Gore would not have overcome his vote deficit, even with the most liberal of standards for counting partially-marked ballots.
Calls for some sort of national standards for balloting, to set residency requirements, and to set methods of vote tabulation and how to determine when a recount should be done and when a hand recount should be done. Everyone agreed that there were flaws in the system, flaws which may not be fixable, and flaws which usually had a negligible effect on the outcome of any one election, let alone a national election. How to make changes is another story.
In his dissent of the December 12th decision, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens lamented that the Bush case relied on "an unstated lack of confidence in the impartiality and capacity of the state judges who would make the critical decisions if the vote count were to proceed." He echoed the fears of many that the impartiality of the judiciary, at the federal level too, but particularly at the state level, was suspect.
Of the Bush presidency, no one knew how the election dispute would affect its effectiveness. Calls for a bipartisan Cabinet, unheard of but for a few notable exceptions, rang out. Democrats chomped at the bit for the 2002 election season, hoping voter distrust of the system and some lingering animosity or suspicion of the Republicans would help carry them to the congressional leadership, and ultimately to the White House in 2004. Republicans were faced with a close House and a tied Senate, and moderate members of both parties were courted.
The 2000 election could be called a watershed event in American history. But it will only be those who write the history books a generation from now who will be able to say for sure - embroiled as we are today in the heat of it all, we cannot tell. Suffice it to say, it was an interesting time to be an observer of American politics.
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History Shows January Front-runner Often Does Not Win Democratic Nomination
PRINCETON, NJ -- The presidential election primary season is upon us, with the Iowa caucus now less than two weeks away, and with the high visibility New Hampshire primary taking place in only three weeks, on Jan. 27. Not a single vote has yet been cast, but former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has already been anointed the front-runner in the race for the Democratic nomination (and is on the cover of both TIME and Newsweek magazines this week) -- based in large part on his strong showing in recent public opinion polls at both the national and state level.
But just how predictive is this type of strength in early national polling in terms of a candidate's chances of actually winning the Democratic nomination?
There have been 10 races over the last 50 years in which there was a significant contest for the Democratic nomination: 1952, 1956, 1960, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1984, 1988, 1992, and 2000. (The omitted years of 1964, 1980, and 1996 were ones in which a Democratic incumbent president ran for re-election with little or no opposition.)
The nature of these contests has changed over the years, of course, but the comparison of early national poll results with the eventual nomination outcome provides us with a track record of sorts in our attempt to answer the "prediction" question. And the answer is clear: there is no clear relationship between the candidate leading in Gallup's national trial heat surveys among Democrats at the beginning of an election year and the eventual winner of the party's nomination. In fact, in only 4 out of the 10 elections (Adlai Stevenson in 1952, John F. Kennedy in 1960, Walter Mondale in 1984, and Al Gore in 2000) did the front-runner in late December/early January win the Democratic Party's nomination. In all other instances, someone else came from behind as the primary season unfolded.
2000 Presidential Election
In the 2000 presidential election, incumbent Vice President Al Gore maintained a considerable lead over Bill Bradley in the month leading up to the primary season, and Gore, of course, eventually won the party's nomination for president. A slight majority of Democrats, 52%, supported Gore in late December 1999, compared with just 38% who supported Bradley. Gore's role as Bill Clinton's vice president made him a quasi-incumbent in 2000, and he was widely expected to be his party's nominee.
Democratic Nomination for President
(Horse Race for Democratic Ticket in 2000)
Candidate labeled in bold won the party's nomination for president.
1992 and 1988 Presidential Elections
Both the 1992 and 1988 races for the Democratic nominations were essentially still wide-open as late as January in each of these two years the front-runner in the national polls in both instances did not receive his party's nomination.
Although then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton had by January 1992 risen from relative obscurity to the point where he was in second place in Gallup's poll of Democrats around the nation, he was still running behind former California Gov. Jerry Brown. Only later did he move to the top of the national poll's list.
In 1988, former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart led the Democratic nomination in a mid-January Gallup survey, with 25% support among Democrats. The eventual nominee, then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, was only supported by 10% of Democrats in that poll (quite similar to the positioning of several candidates running behind Dean in recent national polling for the 2004 Democratic nomination).
Democratic Nomination for President
(Horse Race for Democratic Ticket in 1988 and 1992)
First of a two-part series
In January and February the role of the US television networks in the events of election night (November 7-8) 2000 came under scrutiny in a number of quarters. On January 4, CBS News issued an 87-page report on its election night coverage. The same day, NBC News released a much shorter study. At the end of the month CNN, the all-news cable network, issued a report on its own performance. In the middle of February, amidst a flurry of publicity, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing at which the heads of the major news networks were questioned by a congressional panel.
This official political and media discussion centers on the two “mistaken” calls of the presidential vote in Florida made by the television networks election night—first, for Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic Party candidate, at around 7:50 p.m. (retracted at about 10:00 p.m.) second, for Texas Governor George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, at approximately 2:15 a.m. (retracted around 4:00 a.m.). The Florida vote was declared “too close to call” early on the morning of November 8 and a five-week political crisis ensued, which ended with the installation of Bush in the White House on the basis of an anti-democratic ruling by five right-wing Supreme Court justices.
Television executives have engaged in a good deal of breast-beating over the past four months about their errors election night. But, as is often the case in contemporary American political life, the issues not discussed in the public debate are the most significant ones.
Long experience has demonstrated that those engaged in a whitewash are often advised, for the sake of credibility, to acknowledge errors, lapses, or even minor transgressions, so as to avoid revealing serious wrongdoings. Such is the case here.
The official examination of the networks' conduct has been so framed as to exclude any discussion of the more general and crucial questions—whether Bush gained office through fraudulent and undemocratic means, and whether the mass media were complicit. The CBS, NBC and CNN reports, as well as the Congressional hearings, are classic examples of a cover-up, and a rather shabby one at that.
The committees set up at both CBS and NBC to look into their performances and produce reports included two network executives, plus an academic CNN hired three outsiders, including right-wing columnist Ben Wattenberg.
All three reports are both self-serving and superficial. In relation to the problem of mistaken “calls,” each of the studies makes more or less the same recommendations: more oversight, less pressure to be the first network to make a call, less reliance on voter exit surveys, no projection of a winner in a given state until all its polling places have closed (in 12 states polls do not close at the same time), clarification of language used on broadcasts (not “Gore wins Florida,” for example, but “CBS News, based on exit polls, projects or estimates that Gore will win Florida”), uniform national poll closings.
Each of the reports places the major onus for the Florida miscalls on the Voter News Service (VNS), the organization that collects vote totals and conducts exit polls for all the major television networks and for the Associated Press (AP).
VNS is a story in itself, and one about which, until the problems on November 7, very few Americans knew anything. (As the CBS report authors observe, VNS only began to be mentioned by name on air when it became apparent that mistakes had been made. The networks were content to claim sole credit for their calls as long as they proved correct. There is a further, political purpose for making VNS the whipping boy, which we will discuss below.)
Until 1964 ABC, CBS, NBC, AP and United Press International (which no longer exists) each carried out its own vote tabulations and analyses on election day. In the New Hampshire primary, for example, each of the television networks would have telephones installed at some 300 polling places. As a cost-cutting and efficiency measure, the three networks and two wire services created the News Election Service (NES) in the summer of 1964 to keep a running total of the vote on election day. In 1990, the same networks and AP, plus the newcomer CNN, established Voter Research and Surveys (VRS) to do the same with exit polls and estimates.
It would be naïve to imagine that such a joint effort by huge corporations in competition with one another for advertising dollars could be a smooth-running operation. Indeed, the CBS report hints at this, indicating that from “VRS's inception, there were heated debates among the members, the first occurring over whether the CBS or ABC election unit would be the core of the new pool.”
CBS won out, but when VRS and NES were merged in 1993 into VNS, the difficulties apparently continued. In the 1990 and 1992 elections all calls had been made by VRS personnel, and communicated directly to the networks and by them to the public. In 1994, ABC, presumably still rankling from its organizational defeat within the combined service, formed its own decision team (using VNS data) and called several races before VNS and the other members. In response, all the networks formed their own decision teams, CBS and CNN creating a joint team. (Fox News joined VNS in 1996.)
On election day, VNS communicates its vote totals and exit poll findings to the networks and the AP (which maintains its own independent vote tabulation) and the latter organizations' “decision teams” make the determination when to call a state for a particular candidate. Not surprisingly, the calls are generally made within minutes and even seconds of each other.
For example, the projection that Gore had won Florida, based on VNS data, was made by NBC at 7:49:40 p.m., CBS at 7:50:11 p.m., Fox and VNS itself at 7:52 p.m. and ABC at 8:02 p.m.. An individual network's bragging rights, which undoubtedly have a cash value with advertisers, stem from how many “first calls” it makes.
The creation of VNS, logical from one point of view—why should there be six different organizations collecting voting data?—is, from another, bound up with corporate economic considerations and retrograde social trends.
The five networks and AP contributed a combined $33 million to fund VNS in the “election cycle,” including the primaries and culminating in the November 2000 election. Each individual network, in other words, spent a mere fraction of the cost of an individual episode of a successful television series such as Friends or ER on “Decision 2000,” or whatever other pretentious name each gave its coverage.
Such cost-cutting is part of a broader trend. Television coverage of the elections has declined sharply in scope and seriousness over the past several decades. This constitutes an element of the general decay of the electoral process—the narrowing of differences between the two parties, the coarsening of debate, the growing alienation of broad layers of the public, the increasingly predictable and pro forma character of election campaigns—all of this taking place within the context of growing social polarization.
What the network reports do not discuss
The various reports on the television networks' election coverage fail to make reference to two of the most remarkable, and interconnected, developments that took place on election night: the extraordinary governor's mansion press conference held by Bush, and related Republican efforts to pressure the networks into retracting their call for Gore in Florida and the role played by Bush's first cousin, John Ellis, head of Fox News' decision team.
The projection made by all the networks by 8 p.m. of a Gore victory in Florida was considered a fatal blow to Bush's hopes, particularly when it was followed by the declaration of a Gore triumph in Pennsylvania. At this point panic reportedly set in within the Texas governor's camp.
Instead of continuing to watch the returns at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin, Bush and his entourage abruptly moved to the governor's mansion. Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the candidate's brother, telephoned his cousin, Ellis, at Fox and asked him about the networks' claim of a Gore victory in Florida. “Are you sure?”, he asked Ellis, to which Ellis reportedly replied, “We're looking at a screen full of Gore.”
The Bush forces began a campaign to reverse the networks' call in Florida. Mary Matalin, a Republican media operative, raised doubts about the Gore call on CNN. At around 9:30 p.m. Karl Rove, Bush's chief political strategist, went on NBC and admonished the networks. “I would also suggest that Florida has been prematurely called,” he declared. “First of all, I thought it was a little bit irresponsible of the networks to call it [for Gore] before the polls closed in the western part of Florida. Florida is still split among two time zones, eastern and central. You all called it before the polls had closed in the central part of the country.”
This was the first reference to what was to become a minor right-wing rallying cry: the claim that the networks cost Bush votes by projecting a Gore victory before the polls were closed in the more heavily Republican northwestern corner of Florida. While there is an issue of principle here—candidates and voters have a right to expect that the networks will withhold their election calls until the polls in any given state have closed—in relation to the outcome of the 2000 election, the “early” call in Florida is essentially a red herring.
The polls in Florida's eastern time zone closed at 7:00 p.m. at that point, only 5 percent of the voting-age population, according to the CBS report, had not voted. Moreover, the networks actually began calling the election for Gore at 7:50 p.m. in the east (6:50 central time), only 10 minutes before the polls closed in the Florida panhandle.
Rove's appearance on NBC was followed by an impromptu press conference held by Bush in the governor's mansion at around 9:50 p.m., an event unprecedented in US election night annals. Bush chastised the networks for their calls in Florida and Pennsylvania, saying both states were too close to call. This extraordinary intervention by a presidential candidate has been all but forgotten (or passed over) in the media coverage of election night. None of the networks' reports even refer to it, and a supposedly hard-hitting article in Brill's Content by Seth Mnookin (“It Happened One Night”) simply mentions in passing “a defiant appearance by Bush.”
Yet on November 8 an article in the Washington Post was relatively forthright:
“All the turmoil in Florida produced an extraordinary bit of television drama, with four networks abruptly backing off their projection that Gore would win Florida's crucial 25 electoral votes. They did so after Bush allowed cameras into the Texas governor's mansion so he could insist that the Florida contest was not over.
“At 10 p.m., CBS, ABC and CNN all said they were moving Florida into the undecided category, more than two hours after they had used exit-poll data to call the state for Gore. NBC followed 15 minutes later.
“The networks' flip-flop came about 10 minutes after they aired an unusual videotape in which Bush, with his father, mother and wife, challenged the television projections in Florida and Pennsylvania. ‘The people actually counting the votes have come to a different perspective. I'm pretty darned upbeat about things,' said Bush, undoubtedly with an eye on turning out his supporters in western states.
“The network reversal quickly changed the commentary, which had increasingly been saying it would be very difficult for Bush to beat Gore after having lost Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania.”
The networks have since claimed there was ample data flowing in to justify their retraction of the Gore call in Florida. Whatever the case, it would be hard to argue that the unprecedented pressure applied by the Bush camp had no impact on television network executives, who are generally indifferent to the sentiments of the population at large, but extremely sensitive to the demands of the corporate and political establishment.
Telephone conversations between the Bushes and their cousin at Fox continued into the night. These remarkable facts—that the presidential candidate's brother was in charge of the government (and vote tabulating) apparatus in the contested state, and that their first cousin held a critical position on the decision team of a major network charged with calling the election—have provoked little debate or even comment in the media or, for that matter, from the liberal establishment or the Democratic Party. This, despite the fact that Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, with Ellis leading its decision desk, was the first network to declare Bush the victor in Florida at 2:16 in the morning.
Notwithstanding the indifference of the media and the political officialdom, the role of Ellis and Fox News raises some obvious and pointed questions:
What, if anything, did George W. Bush and his brother Jeb know about the vote in Florida that the public did not? Why were they apparently so certain Florida would end up in their camp? What discussions took place between Bush operatives and John Ellis of Fox News?
Did, in fact, George W. Bush or his associates, through Bush's cousin, call the election for George W. Bush?
On numerous occasions, through all the largely manufactured scandals of the Clinton years and beyond, Whitewater Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr or Republicans in Congress have subpoenaed witnesses and impounded records either to obtain information they thought might incriminate or embarrass Clinton, or to generate the appearance of criminal behavior, or simply to harass.
It is, however, a remarkable fact that in this case, concerning the result of a presidential election, no one has demanded that the Bush team's phone logs or notes be produced.
The psychological and political importance of having Bush declared the winner in Florida, and hence nationally, was enormous. It was no doubt an important element in the calculations of Ellis and the Republican camp. From that moment onward, a section of the public, encouraged by the Republicans and the media, viewed Bush as the legitimate winner and Gore the “sore loser.”
The failure of the CBS, NBC and CNN reports even to refer to Ellis or to Bush's election night press conference is sufficient to brand them as travesties.
What the network reports disclose
Each report takes as its starting point the legitimacy of the final outcome of the election crisis: the suppression of votes in Florida and installation of Bush.
The NBC report is perfunctory. Of the two longer studies, CBS's is the more informative. Typically, while feeling no need to respond to the widespread sentiment that the Bush election was fraudulent and his administration illegitimate, the CBS authors are sensitive to every allegation of the Republican right wing, no matter how far-fetched.
The CBS report, for example, disputes the accusation that early calls by the television networks affect the outcome of voting (i.e., that residents of areas where polls are still open will be discouraged from voting by projections of a national or state winner). The report's authors expose several so-called studies of the Florida vote as the work of “Republican partisans, not unbiased observers.”
They reject, albeit diplomatically, the charge made by Republican Congressman W. J. “Billy” Tauzin of Louisiana that the networks demonstrated bias for Gore by delaying calling states for Bush. This absurd allegation, originally made by Tauzin, the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, on November 9 and repeated in a letter to the network news organizations December 11, formed the initial justification for the February hearing in Washington where the television news executives testified.
The authors of the CBS report observe that the mistaken calls of the networks pale in comparison to a more serious issue, the “dirty little secret” of American politics: in their words, that US elections are “prone to human error, mechanical error, confusion and disorganization,” with some two million votes being thrown out for every 100 million cast.
They comment: “We have heard much about the punch-card ballots in Florida. But we now know that a third of the country votes by punch-card ballots. In Cook County, Illinois [Chicago], in this election, more than 120,000 punch-card ballots were discarded. In Detroit, some polling places did not have enough electronic voting pens to service the voting booths. In Massachusetts, 30,000 votes were left uncounted in 51 precincts because of human error. In New Mexico, election officials thought that a handwritten notation about absentee votes from one precinct indicated 120 votes for Gore, when the actual number was 620.”
The CNN report, about whose “independence” the network made a great fuss, is the more explicitly reactionary in its political outlook. As opposed to the other networks' commentators, the authors of the CNN study express definite concern over the extent to which the networks' mistaken calls inflamed a volatile political situation.
In their introduction, they write: “The uncertainty about who had won Florida, engendered by the closeness of the Florida contest, but exacerbated by the mis-reporting, turned out to play an unhealthy role in the subsequent tense and potentially dangerous post-election controversy until the final determination of the race after more than a month in a climate of public rancor.”
In the section entitled “Recommendations,” the CNN report returns to this theme: “There is no shortage of angry Americans who at any given moment believe something ‘unfair' has happened in the world's model democracy. The weeks following the Florida election led to complaints about bias and/or lack of competence in the broadcast media, and helped set an angry tone in the country concerning the outcome of the election. One would think that only great benefit might tempt major news organizations to risk placing even an extra twig on that fire.”
Here the authors of the CNN report barely conceal their contempt for the American people, whom they disparage for presuming to believe that the “world's model democracy” could possibly be unfair. It does not occur to them that a contradiction might exist between the admission that a great many Americans “at any given moment” think something “unfair” is happening, on the one hand, and their glowing characterization of American democracy, on the other.
Concerning the actual events of November 7-8, the CBS and CNN reports paint similar pictures. Taking into account that both reports leave entirely out of the picture the machinations of the Bush camp, what follows is the official version of the mistaken calls in the Florida vote.
The call for Gore
Between 7:00 and shortly after 8:00 p.m., all indicators strongly suggested to VNS analysts that Gore was heading for victory in Florida, and by a considerable margin. At 7:48 p.m. NBC became the first television network to declare Gore the projected winner in Florida, followed by the other networks, AP and VNS itself within the next 15 minutes.
At 8:10 p.m. the CNN-CBS decision team reviewed the Florida data and concluded that the exit polls had underestimated Gore's victory margin by nearly 4 percent. The team was more convinced than before of a Gore win. Between 9:00 and 9:45 p.m., however, the projected Gore lead failed to materialize. Faced with a Bush lead in the actual tabulated vote, all the networks began to consider pulling back from the Gore call. They did so at 10:00 or shortly after. At 10:16 VNS officially retracted its call for the Democratic candidate.
It is necessary, however, to submit these events to closer examination.
Voter News Service is a well-tested organization. However one may feel about the practice of projecting winners in elections as early as possible, and the motives for doing so, VNS personnel have a considerable expertise in that sort of work. In determining the projected winner in a given state, the service's statisticians require that there be less than a 1 in 200 chance of error. The VNS analysis in Florida was based on a combination of exit polls (voters were queried in 45 precincts), the state's tabulated raw vote, county models, past voting patterns, current projections and unofficial results supplied to the service by poll workers in 120 precincts.
The following calculations are based on the CNN and CBS references to VNS's internal report, which was only made available to its member news organizations. Since percentages alone are mentioned by CNN and CBS, not actual numbers, some degree of approximation is required.
At 7:50, 50 minutes after most of the state's polls had closed, VNS projected Gore winning Florida by 7.3 percent, or approximately 52.5 to 45.2 percent. Taking into account that more people ultimately showed up at the polls in Florida (nearly six million voted) than VNS had projected, its 7.3 percent estimate was probably somewhere in the range of 400,000 votes. This is, relatively speaking, a huge margin. Bill Clinton won Florida in 1996 by 5.7 percent (or some 300,000 votes). Gore won Michigan and Pennsylvania, two of the other critical races, by 4 percent.
VNS apparently made a number of projections between 7 p.m. and some time after 8, but they all indicated a Gore victory. Louis Boccardi of AP, in his testimony before Congress, noted that “shortly after 7 p.m. Eastern time . the VNS exit polling data were indicating that Mr. Gore could win by a margin of more than 6 percent.” This is confirmed by the CNN report, which refers to “VNS exit polling information supplied to the CNN/CBS Decision Team show[ing] Gore leading Bush in Florida by 6.6 per cent.” According to Mnookin in Brill's Content, at 7:40 p.m. VNS estimated a 51.1 to 46.5 percent victory (a 4.5 percent margin) for Gore.
At 7:45 VNS information suggested that the first returns indicated, if anything, that the exit polls had been overstating the Bush vote. The CBS report states: “The average error within those precincts suggested that the survey was actually underestimating the Gore lead by 1.7 percentage points.”
In his statement before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on February 14, Ted Savaglio, executive director of VNS, declared: “On Election Night our statistical models, based on our exit polls and actual vote from a number of sample precincts, showed Vice President Gore ahead—decisively it seemed—in Florida. Our decision team considered other variables, including absentee vote beyond that which already was accounted for in the models, and determined that the data clearly justified making a call, which we did shortly before 8:00 p.m..”
By 8:10 p.m., the data, including actual votes, pointing toward a Gore victory was so convincing that all the networks apparently felt confident in the projections they had made. (It must have been around this time that Ellis told Jeb Bush, the Florida governor, “We're looking at a screen full of Gore.”) The CNN-CBS Decision Team reviewed the Florida data and concluded that the exit poll had underestimated the Gore victory margin by nearly 4 percent. According to the CNN report, “That, along with other sets of data, makes the team more certain of a Gore win there.”
The decision team members later reported to the two networks: “Even if we had not made the Gore projection at 7:50, we surely would have made the projection looking at this data at 8:10. In our many years of examining decision screens we do not believe that there has ever been a single instance in which the leader changed in a race in which we had this much data from survey, VPA [Voter Profile Analysis], and county vote and ten estimators all showing a six point lead or more. Presented with this consistent data there was no reason to justify not calling this race. We would not have been doing our jobs if we had not called this race at this time when presented with this data. If we cannot believe data this convincing from VNS the entire purpose of our Decision Team is undermined” (emphasis added—DW).
The implication here is that the VNS data and projections were drastically wrong, but the comment is perhaps more suggestive than the authors suspect.
Polls 2000 Elections - History
The following lecture, “Lessons from history: The 2000 elections and the new ‘irrepressible conflict,’” was given by David North, chairman of the World Socialist Web Site International Editorial Board and national chairman of the Socialist Equality Party (US), at a public meeting of the Socialist Equality Party of Australia on December 3, 2000 in Sydney.
It was delivered one month after the November 2000 election and just nine days before the US Supreme Court’s infamous ruling, in a five-four split decision, halting the recount of the presidential vote in the state of Florida, questioning the right of the American people to elect the president, and handing the White House to Republican candidate George W. Bush, who had lost the popular vote.
As North warned in his lecture: “What the decision of this court will reveal is how far the American ruling class is prepared to go in breaking with traditional bourgeois-democratic and constitutional norms. Is it prepared to sanction ballot fraud and the suppression of votes and install in the White House a candidate who has attained that office through blatantly illegal and anti-democratic methods?”
The answer, as we now know, was yes. The high court’s decision marked a turning point in US history, constituting a fundamental and irrevocable break with democracy and the traditional forms of bourgeois legality.
The lecture explains the “irrepressible conflict” that led to the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery at the cost of some 600,000 lives. It draws out the parallels to a new “irrepressible conflict” between capital and labor. It is this conflict that underlay the repudiation of bourgeois democratic forms of rule in the US election 20 years ago, and today, at a much sharper stage of its development, the present attempts by President Donald Trump to turn the 2020 election into a coup d’état.
As you know, the original plan of this meeting was to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of Trotsky’s assassination. The decision to change the subject was not made lightly. I had intended to utilise this occasion to not only insist on the enduring significance of Trotsky’s theoretical and political legacy, but to argue that history will ultimately judge Trotsky as the greatest revolutionary leader and thinker of the twentieth century.
The change of topic is not intended, in any way, to suggest a lessening of the emphasis placed by the International Committee of the Fourth International on the centrality of the historical foundations of our movement—above all, on the essential significance of its ongoing and unrelenting struggle to clarify the great strategic lessons of the century that is now completing its final month.
But what I had intended to say about Trotsky’s life and legacy can be deferred. The events now occurring in the United States are of such immense international political significance that it would be, in our opinion, a serious error to miss the opportunity provided by this meeting to discuss the crisis that has arisen out of the election of November 7, 2000. I think that Trotsky himself would have approved. An essential characteristic of his work was to identify and concentrate the attention of Marxists and politically advanced sections of the working class on those events in which the contradictions of world capitalism found their most advanced expression.
In November 1931, Trotsky defined events in Germany—where the struggle between the working class and the advancing forces of fascism was entering its climactic stage—as “The key to the international situation.” He wrote: “On the direction in which the solution of the German crisis will develop, will depend the fate not only of Germany herself but the fate of Europe, the fate of the entire world for many years to come.”
Without in any way suggesting a simple analogy between the conditions that existed in the Germany of 1931 and those that exist currently in the United States, it is necessary to introduce into the political consciousness of the international working class the vast significance of the American crisis. After all, there is no other country in the world where there exist greater illusions in the stability and might of capitalism.
The illusions that exist within the United States about the permanence of the system are mirrored throughout the world. No country is seen as a greater exemplar of the power of the market and the power of capital. It is still, in the minds of millions of people, the land of democracy, the land of unlimited opportunity. And even among those who consider themselves critics of American imperialism, how many of them truly believe that there could ever arise in this bastion of world capitalism a crisis that would seriously call into question the stability of the entire system?
No disrespect is intended, but if I would have suggested to you several months ago that the United States would be hurled into a political crisis so immense, so fundamental, that it would call into question the whole governmental structure, how many of you, even those who are most generous in their appraisal of the work of the ICFI, would have been prepared to subscribe to that viewpoint?
And yet here we are, one month after an election unlike any that has taken place in the US in the twentieth century, and it is no longer unthinkable that the political system in the United States could undergo a dramatic and entirely unexpected transformation.
The beginning of a revolutionary crisis in the very bastion of world capitalism—and that is the essential significance of the present developments—has introduced into the world situation a factor of extraordinary and almost incalculable magnitude. Overnight, the political strategists and economic theorists of the ruling classes of every country, including Australia, are suddenly confronted with a fact that they would have considered unimaginable only four weeks ago: the political destabilisation and possible collapse of the governmental structures of the United States—known throughout the world as “The World’s Last Superpower.”
Perhaps one of the most distinguishing features of a genuine crisis is that its arrival is generally unexpected and assumes a form that could hardly have been predicted. This does not mean that a crisis was altogether unforeseen. There was at least one organ of political analysis that had been insisting that the political structure in the United States was approaching a state of profound dysfunction—that was the World Socialist Web Site.
As far back as December 1998, as the Clinton impeachment struggle approached its climax, the WSWS warned that the savage struggle between the Congress and the White House was a portent of approaching civil war. But at that time the WSWS was a voice in the wilderness and received complaining letters from even a number of our supporters protesting against our tendency, they thought, towards hyperbole or exaggeration.
The election crisis
On November 7, 2000 approximately 100 million Americans—about half the potential electorate—went to the polls at the conclusion of what was, even by American standards, a more or less uneventful campaign. It had been anticipated during the final weeks that the outcome would be close, but no one was prepared for what actually took place.
Most commentators had predicted that Bush would win, but in the first hours after the polls closed it became clear that Gore and the Democrats were doing far better than expected in virtually all the major industrial states. States that had been defined as “battleground states” that would indicate a decisive shift in one direction or the other were going largely to the Democrats. Pennsylvania and Michigan, which had been projected to be extremely close, went to the Democrats by substantial margins.
But the biggest surprise of all came when the networks fairly early in the evening announced that Al Gore had carried the state of Florida. By 9 p.m. it appeared that the vice president was going to win the presidency.
Then began a very strange series of events. There are certain traditions that exist in American politics. One is that on election night the presidential candidates are not heard from, except to either declare victory or concede defeat. And yet, after the networks had announced—based on exit polls that tend to be extremely accurate—that the state of Florida was being given to Gore, an impromptu press conference was called in the mansion of Texas Governor Bush. He quite calmly and confidently declared that, notwithstanding predictions by the networks, ultimately he was going to win the state of Florida.
Bush’s appearance and comments produced a very strange impression. As I said, the press conference was a break with the traditional protocol of election night. Moreover, not only was Bush making a premature and impromptu appearance to contest the networks’ appraisal of the Florida exit polls, it was also reported that senior Bush campaign operatives were subjecting the networks to intense pressure, demanding that they change their call and take Florida out of the Gore column.
Why this was important would be revealed later. The political advantage that Bush would have in the days that followed was based almost entirely on the fact that ultimately the networks called the state of Florida for Bush and created a public conception that he had won the election, regardless of the contest that was to follow.
At any rate, an announcement was made shortly after Bush’s press conference that Florida was being taken out of Gore’s column. Several hours later it was announced that Florida was being placed in Bush’s column, and at about 2:00 or 2:30 a.m., Gore, having received the network projections, decided to concede the election.
Gore called Bush on the telephone, wished him well and said he would make his way to a public auditorium to deliver a concession speech. Extraordinary things then happened. Even as Gore was making his way to the auditorium, the differences in the vote margins between Bush and Gore in Florida, which had been narrowing, began to drop rapidly. Desperate aides to the vice president contacted Gore’s motorcade via cell phone to inform him of this fact and to urge him to withdraw his concession. Apparently arguments followed between the motorcade and the campaign headquarters. Gore was finally prevailed upon and he instructed his driver to turn around and go back to his hotel room. He then called Bush and informed him that he was withdrawing his concession. Such things had never happened. By the dawn of November 8, the only thing that was clear was that no one really knew who had won the election.
That evening marked the beginning of a chain of events that is without precedent in the history of the United States. While Bush clung to a lead of several hundred votes, out of a total of six million cast in Florida and out of 100 million cast in the US—overall Gore enjoyed a majority in the popular vote—more and more reports began to emerge about irregularities in the Florida election. Somehow, it turned out, thousands of Jews in Palm Beach had voted for the notorious anti-Semite Pat Buchanan. One political wag said that this was probably because they had been thrilled by Buchanan’s recent book praising Hitler. Reports emerged of African-American voters being harassed by state police on their way to the polling places and thousands of ballots in predominantly Democratic precincts failing to register a vote for the office of president.
This set the stage for an ongoing and lengthy struggle over the counting of ballots. This struggle has been consumed by an increasingly bitter political struggle—much of which has unfolded within courtrooms, culminating in Friday’s hearing before the US Supreme Court.
But while the courts have been the major venue of the struggle, the conflict has also involved the use of mobs to intimidate election officials—mobs hired by the Republican Party—and open appeals by the Republicans for the support of the military. It has even been reported that one military official had to inform officers that they were bound by the military code to remain aloof from politics.
It has become increasingly obvious, and I do not think anyone would seriously contest this, that a full and accurate count of all the ballots cast in Florida would have given the state, and therefore the national election, to Vice President Gore. The efforts of the Republican Party—supported by most of the media—have been centered on preventing such a count from taking place.
As we meet, all eyes are focussed on the US Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on Bush’s appeal of a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that rejected the initial certification of Bush’s dubious victory by the Florida Secretary of State, Katherine Harris. She is a Republican official and was a campaign co-chairman for Bush in Florida.
Even as it became clear that there were still thousands of votes to be counted and many issues remained unsettled, Harris insisted on certifying Bush’s election victory. This has been taken to the Florida Supreme Court, which at the last minute enjoined Harris against ratifying the victory of Bush.
The legal issue was as follows. There are two statutes on the books in Florida. One of them says that the vote must be ratified by a certain day. Another statute says that there is a right of recount. Neither statute is written all that well, as often happens in legislative procedures, and one of the tasks of the court is to determine how it can reconcile conflicting legislative instructions.
The Secretary of State is mandated by law to utilise discretion in observing the deadline—to consider all factors before blindly adhering to a date set in the statute. This issue was taken to the Florida Supreme Court, which overruled the Secretary of State, declaring that the technical issue of a deadline was overridden by fundamental questions of democratic rights raised by the election.
The Florida Supreme Court invoked the Florida Constitution’s Declaration of Rights, which proclaims that the people have rights which cannot be infringed upon by the state. The Supreme Court Justices of Florida asserted that “The right of suffrage is the pre-eminent right contained in the Declaration of Rights, for without this basic freedom all others would be diminished.” The refusal of Harris to delay certification to permit a proper count of disputed ballots represented, according to the court, an arbitrary misuse of her discretion as a state official and, therefore, a violation of the Florida Constitution.
This is the ruling that is being currently reviewed by the US Supreme Court. While a ruling for Gore, upholding the Florida Supreme Court, will not necessarily result in his election, a ruling against him would almost certainly bring the process to a conclusion and guarantee the ascension of Bush.
What the decision of this court will reveal is how far the American ruling class is prepared to go in breaking with traditional bourgeois-democratic and constitutional norms. Is it prepared to sanction ballot fraud and the suppression of votes and install in the White House a candidate who has attained that office through blatantly illegal and anti-democratic methods?
A substantial section of the bourgeoisie, and perhaps even a majority of the US Supreme Court, is prepared to do just that. There has been a dramatic erosion of support within the ruling elites for the traditional forms of bourgeois democracy in the United States.
One columnist summed up all the cynicism toward democracy that prevails in the ruling circles: “Yes,” he wrote, “Gore probably got more votes, but who cares? Gore was mugged in Florida, but the local cops don’t care.”
What is the nature of the crisis?
Notwithstanding the unprecedented nature of the events of the last three weeks, both political leaders and the media continue to insist—in direct contradiction to their actions and words—that the United States is not in the midst of a major constitutional crisis. In other words, the situation in America, the public is led to believe, is perhaps desperate, but not serious. The sowing of political complacency serves the interests of the ruling elite, which seeks to implement its political agenda as much as possible behind the backs of the people.
This complacency is echoed not only in what remains of the politically flaccid liberal press, but also among the varied representatives of middle class radicalism. For example, Ralph Nader has had virtually nothing to say about the post-election crisis, commenting in the most unserious manner that the dispute between Bush and Gore should be decided by the flip of a coin. Alexander Cockburn, the well-known left cynic, has announced himself pleased with the election result. Nothing more serious, he says, than several years of political gridlock in Washington. “First a word about gridlock,” he wrote last week. “We like it.”
Then there is the comment in the pages of Spartacist. I’ve just been privileged to receive a copy of one of their newspapers. Their position is summed up in the following line: “The Gore-Bush feud at this point is more like a tempest in a tea pot than a political crisis of the bourgeoisie.”
And then one has the wisdom of a political tendency in the United States called the Workers World Party, which writes: “There is no social or economic crisis underlying the present election debacle.”
If this is the case, the events in America are completely inexplicable.
Includes the lecture 'Lessons from history: The 2000 elections and the new “irrepressible conflict” and three more essays by David North.
For the first time in the twentieth century in the United States it has been impossible to determine the winner of a presidential election. The vote has revealed a completely polarised electorate. The virtual tie between Gore and Bush is mirrored in the composition of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and the election map resembles that of the division of North and South during the Civil war.
It has proved impossible to achieve a genuinely democratic adjudication of the post-election conflicts within the framework of the existing constitutional structures. And yet—we are assured by these people, who are the firmest believers in the stability of American capitalism—that none of this is related to a social or economic crisis! Such an assessment is the product of a combination of historical ignorance and political blindness.
Lessons from history
From a formal standpoint, the only election that bears any resemblance to the present situation is that of 1876, when there was a division between the popular vote and the Electoral College. The Democratic candidate Samuel Tilden had more popular votes. He probably had won more states and electoral votes, but in a protracted political battle the Republicans claimed the White House in exchange for making drastic political concessions to the old slavocracy in the South. This was the means by which Reconstruction was brought to an end.
But this analogy is inadequate to explain the significance of the present crisis. Let me repeat the argument of liberals and the middle class left, who assure us that nothing of any great significance has happened in America. They say it cannot be all that important because there is no fundamental social and economic crisis in America. People are in bad temper, they are fighting to get into office, everyone wants to win, but it is not all that important.
If they felt compelled to answer the WSWS, I suspect they would dismiss as absurd the claim that there exists within the United States the type of social and economic contradictions that could produce major political struggle, let alone a civil war. After all, prior to the 1860s there was the irrepressible conflict between slavery and free labour. What possible social conflict exists within the United States today, they would argue, that could be compared to the events of that time?
I will try to provide an answer to that question, but I would like to take the opportunity to review, if only briefly, the way in which the political conflicts of the 1850s led ultimately to civil war.
It is interesting that during the past decade there has been a revival of interest in the American Civil War. Movies have been made and books written, some of them excellent, on this extraordinary chapter in American and world history.
The American Civil War was among the most important events of the nineteenth century. It had a profound impact on the development of the working class. It was in every respect one of the most heroic chapters in human history.
What a study of that period reveals is how the intensification of social contradictions—generated by the irrepressible conflict between the peculiar and archaic form of capitalism based on slave labour that prevailed in the American South and the modern and dynamic form of capitalism based on wage labour in the Northern states—led to a complete breakdown of the political system.
For the first 70 years of the history of the American Republic, this antagonism between two systems of labour, one slave and one free, constituted the ominous fault line beneath the entire political, social, economic and legal structure of the United States. Numerous attempts were made to find some means of containing the political antagonisms generated by the social conflict within the existing constitutional structure set up by the Founding Fathers. There was a profound desire, notwithstanding this deep social contradiction, to preserve the union. And yet events—social, economic and political—continuously conspired to intensify the underlying social contradiction and make impossible any political settlement without the resort to violence.
For example, the balance between the slave and the free states was disrupted by the consequences of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, which added vast new tracts of land to the new republic. The early leaders of the United States had tried to deal with this through the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which set the Mason-Dixon Line as the boundary separating slave and free states. This held for nearly 30 years. But the further expansion of the United States, especially as a result of the Mexican War, instigated by the South, threatened to destabilise the balance of power between free states and slave states.
A Congressman from Pennsylvania by the name of David Wilmot introduced into the Congress in 1846 a proviso, which demanded that no territory acquired by the US as a result of the Mexican War could be open to slavery. The South opposed this vehemently. One of the supporters of the Wilmot Proviso was a little-known congressman by the name of Abraham Lincoln, who cast, I believe, five votes in support of it in the course of his relatively brief congressional career. But Congress, which was dominated by the slave states, never accepted the proviso.
A huge battle then erupted over whether California would be admitted into the Union as a slave or free state. Ultimately a compromise was hammered out and California became a free state. However, major political compromises were made to the slave owners, one of them being the Fugitive Slave Act, which demanded that all slaves escaping to the North be returned to their masters. Historian James McPherson gives a very stirring account of the anger produced in the North by the sight of federal marshals going into cities like Boston, which had strong Abolitionist sentiment, grabbing ex-slaves and returning them to their former owners in the South.
There was a sense in the 1850s that the entire political structure was becoming destabilised by these conflicts. Nevertheless, for those who opposed slavery and opposed the growing power of the South, it was a very grim period. After one term in Congress, Abraham Lincoln left politics to devote himself exclusively to his career as a lawyer. He became quite successful and was, for all intents and purposes, out of politics.
Then came an event that was to lead to the radicalisation of American political life: the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The Kansas-Nebraska Act opened up the possibility for an expansion of slavery into new territories north of the Mason-Dixon Line, profoundly altering the character of the American Republic. This not only undermined the position of free labour from an economic standpoint, but also called into question America’s commitment to the democratic ideals that had been advanced in the Revolution of 1776. The Kansas-Nebraska Act declared that the nature of new territories admitted into the Union would be determined by a popular vote of the settlers. That is, Kansas settlers would vote on whether the new constitution would be free or slave, and that would determine how that state was admitted into the Union.
The father of the concept of popular sovereignty was a man by the name of Stephen Douglas, a Democratic Party leader. Douglas tried to reassure the North that even with this Act, given the nature of the climate and the geography of the North, there was little chance that the slave system, based on cotton, could expand northwards. And yet there was a sense that the Act had opened up the floodgates for an expansion of slavery beyond the Mason-Dixon Line. Indeed, the behaviour of the Southern sympathisers who flooded into Kansas began to confirm the worst for those fearing an expansion of slavery.
People known as Border Ruffians began to flood the state. They attacked free settlers and used terror to intimidate those opposed to slavery. The political climate in the North became increasingly strained. All attempts to constrain political discourse within the norms of parliamentary politeness began to break down. An incident, which terrified the North, occurred in May 1856 when a respected Abolitionist, Senator Charles Sumner, seated in the Senate, was approached by a Southern congressman who proceeded to beat him with a cane to a bloody pulp, nearly killing Sumner on the floor of the Senate. The South hailed this act, and the congressman who carried out the outrage was sent complimentary canes from supporters in the South. The North viewed this as another manifestation of the barbarism of the slave states.
Then in 1857 another event took place that was to have the most profound implications. An essential premise of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 had been that Congress had the right to restrict the expansion of slavery. In 1857, after winding through the courts for more than 10 years, a lawsuit brought by a slave by the name of Dred Scott finally came before the US Supreme Court.
Dred Scott had been taken north by his master and had lived in Illinois and Wisconsin, both free states. He travelled back with his owner to Missouri, which was a slave state. At that point Dred Scott sued, insisting that because he had been taken into a non-slave state he could no longer be considered a slave. This suit began in the 1840s, but it was not until 1857 that it finally came before the Supreme Court.
What the Supreme Court did had a fundamental effect on American political life and more or less made civil war inevitable. The Supreme Court had a number of options open to it. It could have said that Dred Scott is a slave he is not a citizen, and therefore has no standing to bring a suit against his owner. The Supreme Court did that. This was bad enough, but it did not stop there. It went on to say that the fact that Dred Scott had been in a Northern state had no effect on his status as a slave—once a slave, always a slave.
The Supreme Court could have stopped there too, but it chose not to. It proceeded to declare, and this is what revolutionised the United States, that an individual who is a slave is a piece of property, which can be taken by its owner to any part of the United States and remain a piece of property.
What did this mean? Aside from the horrifying moral implications—that slaves were not really human, but property—the Supreme Court effectively nullified the Missouri Compromise. It threw out what had been an operative constitutional premise: that Congress had a right to restrict the expansion of slavery. It now proclaimed that there existed no constitutional restrictions on the expansion of slavery anywhere in the United States. There could not be restrictions on property, and on this basis the Supreme Court satisfied the aspirations and aims of the most aggressive and reactionary sections of the Southern slavocracy.
This decision came as a thunderbolt to Northern public opinion. The Supreme Court was discredited for decades to come, a not unimportant fact in the subsequent civil war, when Lincoln routinely ignored Supreme Court rulings. This decision changed the entire face of American politics. Lincoln, who by this time had been brought back into politics by Kansas-Nebraska, became one of the trenchant critics of Douglas’s theory of popular sovereignty. His following grew as did the new Republican Party, itself a product of the reaction against Kansas-Nebraska and the Dred Scott decision.
Examining this event, one sees a characteristic of ruling classes which sense that the tide of history is moving against them. From the standpoint of the South, the growing industrial and economic power of the North seemed a real threat. History was moving against the slave owners, and the more they sensed this, the more determined they were not only to protect slavery in those areas where it existed, but to have slavery proclaimed a positive moral good and to remove all restrictions on its expansion. In direct response to the growing social and economic weakness of the South, the political aggressiveness of that ruling class increased.
Another major event took place in the aftermath of the Dred Scott decision: the controversy over the Lecompton Constitution. This was a constitution devised by an unrepresentative section of slave settlers who were in a minority in Kansas. They gerrymandered something called the Lecompton Constitution, which was essentially a slave constitution, and attempted to force it on the population of Kansas. There was a bitter controversy over this because after having written it, they knew damn well that the Lecompton Constitution could never be passed by a majority of voters in Kansas. So they conspired to find a way to prevent it being sent for ratification by the people of Kansas.
A huge battle then erupted. The people of Kansas had the right to vote on this constitution, yet if they did they would vote it down. Various tricks and manoeuvres were used to find some means of ramming this thing down the throats of the free settlers of Kansas. To make matters even worse, a Democratic president, Buchanan, gave his political support to these reactionary efforts. It was only because of opposition in the House of Representatives that the Lecompton Constitution ultimately failed. Several years later Kansas was integrated into the Union as a free state.
All these events made it increasingly clear that there existed no constitutional framework within which the differences between the North and the South could be peacefully adjudicated. By 1860 it had become overwhelmingly clear to the North that the South would not accept any restrictions on slavery. It controlled the Congress and the Judiciary, and it would not accept the loss of the presidency.
The election of 1860 revealed a completely polarised United States. Lincoln, the Republican candidate, did not receive a single vote for his candidacy in 10 Southern states. His victory was based on overwhelming support in the free states. His election in November 1860 was immediately answered by a declaration of secession, first by South Carolina and then a whole host of other Southern states. As he took office, much of the South was already in rebellion. By 1861, to borrow a phrase from James McPherson, Americans were shooting as they had voted in the election of 1860. What could no longer be adjudicated within the framework of the existing constitutional structure was settled on the battlefield. At a cost of some 600,000 lives, the slave system was destroyed and the United States was reconstituted on the basis of bourgeois democracy—the abolition of slavery and the extension of citizenship to the entire population.
The United States in 2000
Can any analogy be drawn between the crisis of pre-Civil War America and that which exists today? Is there any social antagonism that is comparable to that which underlay the “irrepressible conflict” that led to the Civil War?
Frankly, it is a testimony to the extraordinary decline in the level of political thought, including among those who call themselves Marxists, that the existence of such a social contradiction is not detected. But the fact is that the United States today is the most socially polarised of the advanced capitalist countries. The lack of politically articulate forms of social struggle does not signify the absence of class struggle. Marx refers to “the class struggle, now open, now concealed”. It has been concealed in the United States, but it rages beneath the surface.
Indeed, within the context of the extremes of social inequality that exist in the United States, the absence of politically conscious class struggle testifies above all to the intensity of the social oppression of the working class. All the vast resources of corporate America are directed toward the political and ideological stultification of the broad masses. The present attack on the right to vote is only the inevitable political manifestation of the underlying tendency to systematically exclude the working class from any form of independent participation in political life.
It is important to examine the transcript of the Supreme Court discussion that occurred yesterday, and particularly the positions of Antonin Scalia, a disreputable and thuggish personality who argues with all the integrity of a mob lawyer. When questioning counsel for Gore, Laurence Tribe, Scalia elaborated a thoroughly cynical justification for overruling the Florida Supreme Court.
Some of the arguments are complex, but I will try and explain the issue that arose. Let me give you an idea of the thinking of Scalia, which was shared by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and certainly by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas—that is, by three out of the nine judges.
The issue is: does the Florida Supreme Court have the right to overrule an action by the Secretary of State? The Republicans are arguing that the deadline is inviolable, that the Supreme Court in Florida has no right to change the rules. The argument of the Florida Supreme Court is that voting is a core democratic right that cannot be subordinated to administrative technicalities such as a filing deadline.
Scalia made the following argument. He said, what is at issue in Florida is the selection of electors. That is, electors who will, in accordance with the procedures of the Electoral College, vote for one of the presidential candidates.
Many of you have heard about the Electoral College, but let me explain it. Americans do not vote directly for the president of the United States. The presidential election is actually the sum total of 51 local elections—50 state elections and one election in the District of Columbia. The candidate who wins the majority in each state generally is awarded the electoral votes of that state. And the electoral votes are proportional, although not strictly based, on population. The larger states have more electoral votes than the smaller states. As it turns out, the smaller states are unduly represented because they automatically get an electoral vote for each of their two US senators. In Wyoming, 250,000 voters get one electoral vote while in New York there are around 500,000 voters per electoral vote.
Why has the anomaly of the Electoral College persisted? It was part of the federal arrangements, in the establishment of the framework for bringing the United States together, to assure the smaller states that their voices would be heard. The Electoral College guarantees to the states a certain sovereign voice in the selection of the president. This was an important part of the Federal constitutional set-up—a complex division of power between the federal government and the states.
There was another argument behind the Electoral College, one that was not quite so noble. The Founding Fathers reasoned that there was always a possibility that the people might vote incorrectly, that they would choose a candidate of whom the ruling elites did not approve. There was an undercurrent in the writing of the Constitution that was profoundly anti-democratic, reflecting the outlook of representatives of the highly privileged strata of society. The Electoral College was an ultimate failsafe, a means for overruling the people should they vote the wrong way.
In actual fact, that never happened, and the Electoral College persisted as a quaint anachronism. It was never challenged because the candidate who won a state election was entitled to send his slate of electors to the Electoral College.
Let me return to the issues raised at the Supreme Court. Scalia begins musing that what is really involved in a presidential election is the selection of electors. Then he says that there is no right of suffrage in the selection of electors, that the people do not select electors, they are selected by the state legislature. Therefore matters relating to the election of the president have nothing to do with the people, and it is totally inappropriate for the Supreme Court to begin invoking a declaration of rights to overrule a statute passed by the legislature. In the final analysis, he argued, there is no right of suffrage in the election of a president.
Why does this raise the spectre of Dred Scott? As in 1857, Scalia is seizing the opportunity provided by Bush’s appeal of the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling to legitimise the most reactionary reading of the US Constitution. As Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney found in the Dred Scott case an opportunity to legitimise slavery throughout the United States, Scalia has used this case to deal a body blow against the most basic of democratic rights, the right to vote. He is introducing and legitimising a profoundly anti-democratic interpretation of the American Constitution.
To be sure, the people do not vote directly for the president. But the Electoral College has persisted because the composition of its delegates corresponds to the popular vote within the states. The Electoral College would never have survived as a quaint anachronism of the American political system if its actions overturned the will of the people.
This is not just a speculative issue. Scalia, the political provocateur that he is, was actually urging the Florida legislature to select pro-Bush electors, regardless of the outcome of the Florida vote. At the same time he is elaborating an authoritarian, indeed, oligarchic conception of American democracy—or anti-democracy—that corresponds to what is acceptable to the most reactionary sections of the American ruling elite.
The question must be asked, what accounts for these extraordinary developments? Is Scalia just spinning theories? Or is there a social foundation for the contradictions that are now manifesting themselves in the political life of the United States?
To answer that question, I want to cite a passage from the election statement of our party published in the latest issue of the World Socialist Web Site Review.
“At the top of American society is a possessing class richer, in terms both of wealth and income, than any in history. The richest one percent of American households have amassed more than $10 trillion in wealth—10 million million dollars—about 40 percent of the total national wealth. The combined net worth of these multimillionaires is greater than the total wealth of the bottom 95 percent of the population.
“Since the mid-1970s, the top one percent has doubled its share of the national wealth, from under 20 percent to 38.9 percent, the highest figure since 1929, the year of the stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression. According to another study the richest one percent of households owns half of all outstanding shares of stock, two thirds of all financial securities and over two thirds of business assets.
“The inequality in income is just as stark as the inequality in ownership. In 1999 the richest one percent of the population received as much after-tax income as the bottom 38 percent combined. That is, the 2.7 million Americans with the largest incomes received as much after-tax income as the 100 million Americans with the lowest incomes. The average after-tax annual income of the top one percent has soared by 370 percent since 1977, from $234,700 to $868,000.”
It continues: “During the entire period of 1983 to 1995, these two elite layers, the rich and the super-rich, who make up the top 5 percent of the population, were the only households to experience an increase in financial net worth. This is a statistic worth reiterating: for 12 years straight, including part or all of the presidencies of Reagan, Bush and Clinton, the ‘magic of the marketplace’ resulted in a net loss for 95 percent of the American population, while only the top 5 percent gained ground.
“Throughout the 1990s a virtual mania for unearned income has gripped the ruling class, which has felt itself freed of any effective restraint on profit accumulation. The naked drive for personal wealth exceeds that in any previous ‘Gilded Age.’ CEO compensation rose a staggering 535 percent during the Clinton-Gore administration. The typical corporate boss makes 475 times the income of the average worker, and 728 times the income of a worker on the minimum wage. If wages had risen in the 1990s as fast as the salaries, bonuses and stock options enjoyed by CEOs, the average worker would have annual earnings of $114,000 a year, and the minimum wage would be $24 an hour.”
This is a staggering picture of social inequality. To believe that democratic forms can be preserved in the midst of such extraordinary levels of social polarisation is to simply ignore all the lessons of history. The relationship between political forms and the class structure of society is of a complex dialectical character. But in the long run, there comes a point at which the social tensions produced by rampant social inequality cannot be contained within traditional democratic forms. American society has reached that point.
The two-party system in the United States
One of the peculiar features of American political life is the institutionalisation of a two-party system that has persisted for nearly 135 years. The great weakness of the American workers movement historically has been its inability to establish an independent political party. Political life has remained under the hegemony of the two bourgeois parties through which the political interests of the capitalist class have been controlled and contained for more than a century—the Democrats and Republicans.
Of course, these parties have themselves undergone significant changes during their long history. The Republican Party of today bears little resemblance to that which existed in the days of Eisenhower in the 1950s, let alone to that which existed under the leadership of Lincoln. Similarly, the Democratic Party has undertaken numerous makeovers—most significantly, when it forged an alliance, under the leadership of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, with the labor bureaucracy of the newly formed Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and assumed a more explicit social-liberal character, at least in the North.
To trace the historical evolution of both parties is beyond the scope of this report. It must be said, and it is fairly obvious, that the center of gravity of American politics has moved drastically to the right. Social liberalism, the dominant tendency in American bourgeois politics for more than a half-century, has virtually ceased to exist. This must be explained ultimately from the standpoint of objective causes. Notwithstanding all the ballyhoo surrounding the strength of American capitalism, it has become ever less capable of accommodating the demand for social reform by the working class. The last significant piece of social legislation was put into effect about 30 years ago.
Yet, without offering anything in the way of substantial social reforms, the Democratic Party continues to present itself as the champion of the interests of working Americans. The Republican Party, on the other hand, has become, ever more openly, an organization of the extreme right. The unbridled rapacity of the most ruthless sections of the ruling elite, including those elements whose wealth is a product of the market boom of the 1980s and 1990s, finds its most direct expression in the Republican Party.
If one were to attempt to sum up, in one sentence, the program of the Republican Party, it would be: “The Republicans seek the removal of all restraints—economic, political, social and moral—on the exploitation of labor, the realization of corporate profits and the accumulation of personal wealth.”
This is their program and it was presented rather nakedly throughout the election campaign. Notwithstanding various proclamations of “compassionate conservatism”, Bush himself has presided over 135 executions in the state of Texas. He once said that making a decision on the death penalty was the most important question put before him. It has since been substantiated that it is one to which he devotes no more than 15 minutes.
Underlying all the issues raised in the election was the basic issue of the distribution of social wealth.
In the United States there is no working class mass party. All political debate is funneled through two bourgeois and essentially reactionary parties. Yet the two parties that occupy this position cannot avoid becoming the focus of all the social questions that exist in the United States.
As socialists, we do not advocate a vote for any bourgeois party. We do not practice the politics of “lesser-evilism.” Yet, we do not justify our opposition to the Democratic Party by claiming that it is merely the mirror image of the Republican Party. The strategic and programmatic conflicts within the ruling elite are fought out through these parties.
In the 2000 election campaign, the Democratic Party attempted—hypocritically, to be sure—to present itself as a party of the people. Gore would say, “I fight for the people, not the powerful.” However inconsistently and disingenuously, Gore claimed to speak on behalf of the working people, and the issues that he raised—taxes, Social Security, medical care, education—were pitched to their interests. Implicit in these questions was the central question of the distribution and allocation of social wealth.
The campaign of Bush centered on two demands: the lowering of personal income taxes and the abolition of the inheritance tax. Bush was rather shameless about this. In one debate he repeated again and again that his tax would overwhelmingly benefit the richest one percent of American society. “Why shouldn’t it?” he argued, “they pay most of the taxes.” Bush’s policy centered on an acceleration of the ongoing and massive transfer of wealth to the richest sections of society.
Significant sections of the working class did not necessarily perceive anything positive in the program of Gore, but they certainly recognized in Bush a threat to their social and democratic rights. There was in Florida and in the industrial states a massive turnout of black workers, far beyond what was expected.
The electoral map clearly demonstrates the social divisions in the United States. The Democratic vote was concentrated in the major industrial areas, and the big cities. All the states that play a decisive role in the economic life of the US—California, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan—went for the Democrats. The Republican vote was concentrated in the South, the former bastion of the slavocracy, and in the upper-Midwest—generally speaking, the most backward parts of the United States.
The response of the Republican Party to the election and to the conflict that followed betrays an extraordinary aggressiveness and ruthlessness, which many commentators have found difficult to explain. Here again, it is valuable to draw attention to the outlook of this section of the bourgeoisie.
Let me refer to an article written by a right-wing commentator who was a member of the Reagan administration in 1980—a man by the name of Paul Craig Roberts. He is apoplectic about the ongoing dispute over the election.
He says the following: “Our country is being stolen. Geographically speaking, Gore carried only one-sixth of the country. Five-sixths of the United States rejected him and his corrupt party. Because of the population density of urban areas, maps showing election results by state greatly exaggerate Gore’s geographical support.
“A map of the vote by county shows a tiny Gore presence. Gore’s vote is confined to Hispanic counties in the Southwest, the California coastal counties, Portland Oregon counties, the counties bordering Puget Sound in Washington, Minnesota and urban areas of Great Lakes states, Jewish counties in Florida, heavily black counties in the Southeast and heavily urbanized areas of the Northeast (Philadelphia, New York City, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island), Vermont and parts of Maine.
“Geographically, the map shows a country controlled by a few high-density urban counties where new immigrants and racial minorities constitute a high percentage of the population. The Democratic Party is a party of well-to-do white liberals, university faculties and the media, single women and racial minorities. It is a revolutionary party, committed to overthrowing the ‘hegemonic power’ of traditional American morality, principles, institutions and people.”
He then goes on to say: “Republicans will never get this hardened bloc vote. Blacks voted 90 to 93 percent for Gore, and Hispanics gave Gore between two-thirds and three-fourths of their vote. The longer the borders stay open, the sooner the country will be lost.”
The Republicans see a country, demographically and socially, that is moving, in objective terms, against them. These forces are becoming increasingly desperate and determined to use any means to gain the White House and utilize their control of the judiciary and Congress to beat back what they perceive as the growing threat of the masses.
World developments and the American crisis
In considering the significance of this situation, and in response to those who claim that there is no social or economic foundation for a major constitutional crisis, let me point out another similarity between the pre-Civil War decade and today.
Behind the political contradictions of that era were economic changes of the most colossal character. It was a period of extraordinary economic transformation in the United States—the emergence of industries, railroads, and telegraphs—the first signs of a modern industrial America.
Let me quote from a well-known historian, Bruce Catton: “The economic trend was unmistakable: every technological advance, the railroad, steamship, the telegraph, the new machines for farm and factory, pointed in a single direction, towards national unity and a complex industrial society and close integration with world economy. Rural self-sufficiency and isolation, except in detached pockets, had given way to commercial production for distant markets both national and international. A war in the Crimea or a panic on the Paris Bourse or a drop in interest rates by the Bank of England now touched off seismic shocks that rippled into the Monongahela textile mills and Pittsburgh iron foundries.”
Like the 1850s, the 1980s and 1990s have seen the extraordinary transformation of the United States, beneath the impact of revolutionary new technologies that have accelerated the process of globalization. The changes in social structure, the decline in the position of the traditional middle class, the vast proletarianization of American society, are all bound up with these fundamental changes in the economic base of society. It is these processes that provide the most powerful impulse to the crisis now unfolding in the United States.
In the early 1990s, as the crisis of the Soviet Union unfolded, the ICFI stressed that underlying the breakdown of the USSR and the Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe was not a failure of socialism, in as much as socialism never existed in these countries. These autarchic national economies, the weakest national economies in the world, were breaking down under the pressure of global economic forces. Rather than representing a new stage in the flowering of world capitalism, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the other Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe was the product of global tendencies of economic development and crisis that would eventually shake the foundations the advanced centers of world imperialism.
It took some time. There was the inevitable period of triumphalism, proclamations of the victory of world capitalism. And yet, according to the phrase, the wheels of history grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine. The economic processes of globalization, which swept across the Soviet Union, blowing up the seemingly unchangeable institutions of Stalinist rule almost overnight, are now making their presence felt in the advanced sections of world capitalism, even in the United States itself.
This is why, in the final analysis, the American crisis is a world crisis. In the political destabilization of American capitalism, accompanied by extreme economic dislocation, political events are intensifying the process of a serious economic downturn. Who can doubt that these events will have reverberations on an international scale?
Let me repeat a point I made at the beginning of my remarks. The basic article of faith of all those who have doubted or denied the viability of Marxism, the great land mass against which all hopes of social revolution have been dashed, has been the United States.
Ultimately, no matter what problems capitalism gets itself into in any part of the world, there has always been Uncle Sam to bail it out. The Federal Reserve has only to open up the spigots and the money will flow. Mexico can go bankrupt and money will be sent there. Asia can go under, but something will be done to fix it up.
But what happens if Uncle Sam has a stroke? Who will bail him out? Who will save him? That is a question no one has had to ask or trouble themselves with in the twentieth century. Now, as we enter the twenty-first century, this is a serious issue.
Whether it is Howard in Australia or Blair in England, they all know this is not a good thing for world capitalism. It is not a good time to ask Uncle Sam for money, let alone political advice. Who, in the aftermath of the Florida debacle, will want to hear from Jimmy Carter on how to run a democratic election?
These events not only have vast economic consequences. They will also change the social psychology that plays an important role in the evolution of a revolutionary situation. In the end, the conscious factor assumes massive dimensions in the development of a revolution.
Trotsky explained this so well. There is an objective component of a revolutionary crisis. When the forms of production come into conflict with existing social relations, a revolutionary epoch arises. But these objective contradictions must find their way into the consciousness of masses of people. People have to begin thinking about revolution. They have to want revolution and believe that revolution is a viable option. They have to believe in not only the need, but also the possibility of fundamental social change. In the final analysis, it is not the power of the capitalist state alone that blocks revolution. At a more profound and historically essential level, it is the lack of political confidence and consciousness within the broad masses of their ability to intervene and reconstruct society from top to bottom. The present crisis will provide an impulse for significant and progressive shifts in social consciousness.
The events now taking place in America signify the end of that long period where the affairs of world capitalism could rest securely under the leadership of US imperialism. The United States will no longer be able to play that role. The crisis in the United States has called into question the viability of the capitalist system and it certainly opens up the opportunity for the intervention of the working class as a decisive historical force. This is what is coming next. It has not yet developed openly to that point, but the American working class will make its presence felt. People now have something to say about how this crisis is settled. If not in the next week or next month, six months or even a year, the time cannot be long off before we begin to see a movement by that enormously powerful social force, the American proletariat.
What does it mean for us? We must expand our readership of the World Socialist Web Site. We must respond to the growing flood of inquiries and questions and develop the means to bring together those who are responding to our analysis in a broad and powerful international movement of revolutionary Marxists. Out of this developing movement we must build the Socialist Equality Party in the United States as a section of the International Committee of the Fourth International. This is our perspective. We have entered a new historical period that will be characterized by an immense development in the forces of international Marxism.
History Debate: In 1824 and 2000, 'Stolen Elections' Decided Who Became President
Allegations are flying left and right about potential – or actual – efforts to unfairly and secretly influence the outcome of the 2020 election. It’s a time when political scientists and constitutional scholars like to look back on other times when the electoral process was, you might say, helped along by practices that either were or appeared to be underhanded.
There are not many examples of so-called “stolen elections” in U.S. history, but the ones that had irregularities and were controversial, in 1824 and 2000, had an oversized impact on the decades that followed.
The ‘corrupt bargain’
Looking back to the first allegedly stolen election is a good reminder that U.S. elections used to be much more complicated than today. Yet there are still strong parallels.
There were four candidates running for president in 1824: John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson and William H. Crawford.
After the War of 1812, the United States entered a period historians now call “the Era of Good Feelings.” Among the public and politicians alike, there was a strong desire for national unity, and rare moment of declining partisanship.
To show his support for unity, President James Monroe, a Democratic-Republican who served from 1817 to 1825, asked Adams and Crawford to serve in his Cabinet, despite their rivalry within the Democratic-Republican Party. At the time, Clay, also a Democratic-Republican, was the speaker of the House of Representatives.
The fourth candidate was a comparative outsider. Jackson had made a name for himself as a military commander, both in the War of 1812 and afterward, fighting Native Americans in the southeastern U.S., before being elected as a Democratic-Republican senator from Tennessee in 1822. In his presidential campaign, he played up his Tennessee connections and styled himself as a man of the people and a political outsider. He claiming he would get rid of the “corrupt” aristocrats running the country.
The controversy began with the vote results. None of the four candidates got a majority of electoral or popular votes, though 41% of voters cast their ballots for Jackson, giving him the largest share of the votes and the clearest path to victory. Without an Electoral College win however, the decision came to the House of Representatives.
The 12th Amendment limited the House’s runoff decision to the top three candidates, eliminating Clay, who famously hated Jackson. Crawford had gotten even less of the popular vote, and had no way to win in the House.
There was, however, a directive put forth by the Kentucky legislature to Clay, their native son, to give all of their delegation’s votes to Jackson. Clay ignored this and persuaded the Kentucky delegates and many others in the House to vote for Adams. Jackson was shocked by the result and claimed that Clay had struck a bargain with Adams. Soon thereafter, Clay became the secretary of state for the Adams administration.
After the election, Jackson attacked Adams and the Washington insider for what he called their “corrupt bargain.” He and his allies left the Democratic-Republican Party and formed the party that is now the modern-day Democratic Party.
In 1828, Jackson ran as the Democratic candidate for president, and won, convincing a majority of voters that they needed someone like him to clean up the capital and help the common man. When he took office, he emphasized the capacity of the people to come to the right conclusions, shunning the idea that they needed to be controlled by elites. He wanted judges to stand for election and advocated for the abolition of the Electoral College.
Remember the hanging chad?
Much like Harry Truman’s surprise victory over Thomas Dewey in 1948, in the 2000 election Americans learned not to trust the polls. Many news organizations relied on exit polling to call Florida for Al Gore prior to the close of polling in several Republican-leaning districts.
Florida had 25 electoral college votes at the time. From all the other states, George W. Bush had 246 and Al Gore had 266, respectively. Florida, therefore, would be the state that decided the election, one way or the other. In a rare example of individual votes swaying the election, the decision about who would be the president of the United States came down to just 537 votes.
Lawyers from both parties soon flooded into the Sunshine State as the whole country waited for the results. Gore’s team wanted to force a recount, saying some counties’ ballots were hard for voters to understand, and had led some people, who thought they were voting for Gore, to accidentally vote for Pat Buchanan, a religiously conservative third-party candidate.
There were also problems with the physical structure of some ballots, which required voters to punch a hole to mark the candidate they supported. Some people did not punch a clean hole, leaving bits of paper hanging on – which became known as “hanging chads.”
These small-scale anomalies in a small number of counties in just one state were critical to determine who would be president. A legal back-and-forth about how to recount the ballots raced through state and federal courts, culminating in a Supreme Court ruling. The justices determined the Florida recount plan was not good enough and stopped the recount. Their decision effectively gave Bush the win in Florida, and therefore the Electoral College.
Critics noted that Bush had failed to win the popular vote, and that the Supreme Court vote was split 5-4, with the conservative justices in the majority delivering an outcome favorable to their political leanings.
In the 1824 election, historians see a country rebalancing itself politically and questioning what kinds of leaders the people wanted. In 2000, courts stepped into the most political of all processes: voting.
These elections’ outcomes divided the nation, in ways that were hard to heal, or perhaps never healed. When the winner lacks legitimacy and the loser can say the process was rigged, it is always bad for democracy. If there is, in one way or another, a “stolen” election in 2020 and the winner fails to bring the country together, it is unlikely the U.S. will see another Era of Good Feelings for a long time.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Perfecting the Steal: A Brief History of Rigged Elections from 2000 till Now
Here in the United States, we have a long history of controversial election results, voter fraud, voter suppression, Gerrymandering, and procedural challenges. The topic was hardly spoken of before the 2000 election when it was fairly clear that Jeb Bush, then the governor of Florida, infamous for the hanging chad debacle, was involved in some shady dealings that cost Al Gore the popular vote. Leading up to the 2004 presidential election there was evidence that voters were being harassed at polling places, Diebold voting machines were designed to commit fraud, and strident accusations of individuals illegally voting more than once were being bandied about in the mainstream press.
In short, the recent history of procedurally contentious elections has made it easy to come to the one-sided conclusion that only Republicans are perpetuating the fraud. The fact is that the problem of stealing elections is a bipartisan problem- and the current race for the presidency has thrown that fact into sharp relief.
What’s more frightening is the cooperation between the Democratic and Republican parties to deprive their outsider opposition from getting a fair chance at the nominations in this current election cycle. It has shown us that both parties appear to have been hijacked by an outside source, one that is monstrously unAmerican with no interest in the cause of freedom.
It’s been well documented that the names of known felons were intentionally mixed up with the names of non-felons in an attempt to deprive the Democratic candidate of the African-American vote. Countless disenfranchised people, both black and white, have testified that they were turned away at polling places because they had been linked to crimes they did not commit.
While at first glance, it would seem that Democrats are the innocent party in this event- one would do well to remember, however, that they have been responsible for pushing unpopular welfare and immigration programs that are plainly aimed at artificially boosting democratic voter turnout.
By this time, Diebold voting machines were no longer a mystery to the voting public. We were told on mainstream news channels that not only were these machines apparently designed to steal votes but that the CEO of the company that made them was a personal friend to the incumbent Bush administration. Voter suppression was also widely reported.
No federal agency had any regulatory control of the voting machines. Internationally appointed election observers (a first in US electoral history) were prevented from doing their jobs in Ohio. Finally, analysis showed that the number of votes registered on electronic voting machines had a higher percentage of votes for Bush than did paper ballots.
It’s a bit more difficult to recall the election controversy surrounding the 2008 election. America was too wrapped up in its obsession with proving that we are not a racist people to think clearly about what was going on. But there was a lot of poorly reported suspicion about Barack Obama’s relationship with a man known as Bill Ayers.
The professor from the University of Illinois and former member of the terrorist group the Weather Underground has a long history of working with the current president as well as the Illinois congresswoman who named Obama as her successor. How politicians can outright name their successors without acquiring a bad smell is beyond me. Ayers has a long history of contact with Obama and is a known Alinsky-esc anti-American radical.
In 2012, we saw more voter suppression. We saw media takedowns of candidates on grossly superficial gaffs. Worst of all, we saw a straw-man republican set up against the incumbent who hardly seemed to lift a finger. Now, after years of Obama’s neo-con policies intense bombing of civilians, targeting American citizens, defrauding millions of affordable healthcare with the bill of the same name, and repeated attempts to disarm the American people- the events of the current election cycle reveal a reality behind the political system far grimmer than just shady tactics by one party or the other.
This time, the press is in on it. The Republican and Democratic parties are in on it. Ted Cruz has won voter-less election after voter-less election and went on to brag about it. Bernie Sander’s “supporters” are being paid to stage bogus protests around Trump rallies and incite violence while at the same time playing the victims in the ensuing clashes. Hillary Clinton has been cited as stealing delegates from the Sanders campaign again and again.
The only one who doesn’t seem to be cheating is Trump- and the numbers show that he is far and away the most popular candidate. Disturbing accounts given by delegates who have been intimidated into switching their vote, and who have had their votes changed where they would not consensually change them themselves have been numerous. What’s worse, the media has reported it all to us with a Cheshire cat grin.
It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that our electoral system has long been hijacked by a global entity that has no interest in our national sovereignty. There have been a lot of frightening predictions of riots and civil war when this election is stolen right in plain view of the public. But no one really knows what will happen, or just how dramatic the final upheaval will really be.
The Stolen Presidential Elections
I n one of the closest contests in U.S. history, the 2000 presidential election between Democratic Vice-President Al Gore and Republican governor of Texas George W. Bush (hereafter referred to as Bush Jr. to distinguish him from his father who was also a president), the final outcome hinged on how the vote went in Florida. Independent investigations in that state revealed serious irregularities directed mostly against ethnic minorities and low-income residents who usually voted heavily Democratic. Some 36,000 newly registered voters were turned away because their names had never been added to the voter rolls by Florida&rsquos secretary of state Kathleen Harris. By virtue of the office she held, Harris presided over the state&rsquos election process while herself being an active member of the Bush Jr. state-wide campaign committee. Other voters were turned away because they were declared--almost always incorrectly--&ldquoconvicted felons.&rdquo In several Democratic precincts, state officials closed the polls early, leaving lines of would-be voters stranded.
Under orders from Governor Jeb Bush (Bush Jr.&rsquos brother), state troopers near polling sites delayed people for hours while searching their cars. Some precincts required two photo IDs which many citizens do not have. The requirement under Florida law was only one photo ID. Passed just before the election, this law itself posed a special difficulty for low-income or elderly voters who did not have drivers licenses or other photo IDs. Uncounted ballot boxes went missing or were found in unexplained places or were never collected from certain African-American precincts. During the recount, GOP agitators shipped in from Washington D.C. by the Republican national leadership stormed the Dale County Canvassing Board, punched and kicked one of the officials, shouted and banged on their office doors, and generally created a climate of intimidation that caused the board to abandon its recount and accept the dubious pro-Bush tally. 1
Then a five-to-four conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court in a logically tortured decision ruled that a complete recount in Florida would be a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment&rsquos equal protection clause because different counties have different ways of counting the votes. At that point Gore was behind by only a few hundred or so votes in Florida and was gaining ground with each attempt at a recount. By preventing a complete tally, the justices handed Florida&rsquos electoral votes and the presidency to Bush, a stolen election in which the conservative activists on the Supreme Court played a key role.
Even though Bush Jr. lost the nation&rsquos popular vote to Gore by over half a million, he won the electoral college and the presidency itself. Florida was not the only problem. Similar abuses and mistreatment of voters and votes occurred in other parts of the country. A study by computer scientists and social scientists estimated that four to six million votes were left uncounted in the 2000 election. 2
T he 2004 presidential contest between Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry and the incumbent president George W. Bush amounted to another stolen election. Some 105 million citizens voted in 2000, but in 2004 the turnout climbed to at least 122 million. Pre-election surveys indicated that among the record 16.8 million new voters Kerry was a heavy favorite, a fact that went largely unreported by the press. In addition, there were about two million progressives who had voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 who switched to Kerry in 2004. Yet the official 2004 tallies showed Bush Jr. with 62 million votes, about 11.6 million more than he got in 2000. Meanwhile Kerry showed only eight million more votes than Gore received in 2000. To have achieved his remarkable 2004 tally, Bush would needed to have kept all his 50.4 million from 2000, plus a majority of the new voters, plus a large share of the very liberal Nader defectors. Nothing in the campaign and in the opinion polls suggest such a mass crossover. The numbers simply do not add up.
In key states like Ohio, the Democrats achieved immense success at registering new voters, outdoing the Republicans by as much as five to one. Moreover the Democratic party was unusually united around its candidate-&mdashor certainly against the incumbent president. In contrast, prominent elements within the GOP displayed open disaffection, publicly voicing serious misgivings about the Bush administration&rsquos huge budget deficits, reckless foreign policy, theocratic tendencies, and threats to individual liberties. Sixty newspapers that had endorsed Bush in 2000 refused to do so in 2004 forty of them endorsed Kerry. 3
All through election day 2004, exit polls showed Kerry ahead by 53 to 47 percent, giving him a nationwide edge of about 1.5 million votes, and a solid victory in the electoral college. Yet strangely enough, the official tally gave Bush the election by two million votes. What follows are examples of how the GOP &ldquovictory&rdquo was secured. 4
In some places large numbers of Democratic registration forms disappeared, along with absentee ballots and provisional ballots. Sometimes absentee ballots were mailed out to voters just before election day, too late to be returned on time, or they were never mailed at all.Overseas ballots normally reliably distributed by the State Department were for some reason distributed by the Pentagon in 2004. Nearly half of the six million American voters living abroad--a noticeable number of whom formed anti-Bush organizations--never received their ballots or got them too late to vote. Military personnel, usually more inclined toward supporting the president, encountered no such problems with their overseas ballots. A person familiar with my work, Rick Garves, sent me this account of his attempt to cast an overseas ballot:
I filled out the forms to register to vote absentee since I live here in Sweden. They were even done at a meeting for &ldquoDemocrats Abroad in Stockholm.&rdquo I mailed the forms and when I got my packet back I looked at it and they had me as being in the military. Of course I am not and never have been. I also never checked any boxes on the forms even remotely close to anything insinuating that I was in the military.
So there was not enough time to fix the &ldquoerror&rdquo and I did not even bother to vote because I knew they would check and find that I am not in the military and my vote would be invalidated. I now wonder even more if that happened because of the Pentagon taking over the handling of the absentee voter registration and too, how many more overseas voters had the same problem?
Voter Outreach of America, a company funded by the Republican National Committee, collected thousands of voter registration forms in Nevada, promising to turn them in to public officials, but then systematically destroyed the ones belonging to Democrats.
Democratic precincts--enjoying record turnouts--were deprived of sufficient numbers of polling stations and voting machines, and many of the machines they had kept breaking down. After waiting long hours many people went home without voting. The noted political analyst and writer, Gregory Elich, sent me this account of his election day experience:
I recall being surprised when I went to vote before work here in Ohio in 2004. Normally, at election time, I can go to the polling place before work, walk in and be in a voting booth in less than two minutes, even in a presidential election. In 2004, when I arrived I saw a long, snaking line of people. I waited twenty minutes, and the line barely moved. It was clear I would be late for work if I persisted, so I left and decided to take an hour or so of vacation time in the middle of the day to vote. I thought surely, in the middle of the work day, the line would not be bad. The line was worse, and it took me close to two hours to vote.
My neighborhood is about 65 to 70 percent African-American. The next day, in conversation with an African-American co-worker, she told me that she waited in line for four hours. And I heard stories later of people waiting as long as 7 hours. I also stopped at the post office, and voting was a topic of conversation for those of us in the post office line. The man ahead of me, who lived in a well-to-do neighborhood said he was surprised to hear the stories, because it only took him two minutes to vote. Just anecdotal stories, but there were so many more, that there certainly seemed to be a pattern in regard to wealthy vs. working class neighborhoods.
Pro-Bush precincts almost always had enough voting machines, all working well to make voting quick and convenient. A similar pattern was observed with student populations in several states: students at conservative Christian colleges had little or no wait at the polls, while students from liberal arts colleges were forced to line up for as long as ten hours, causing many to give up.
In Lucas County, Ohio, one polling place never opened the voting machines were locked in an office and apparently no one could find the key. In Hamilton County many absentee voters could not cast a Democratic vote for president because John Kerry&rsquos name had been &ldquoaccidentally&rdquo removed when Ralph Nader was taken off the ballot.
A polling station in a conservative evangelical church in Miami County, Ohio, recorded an impossibly high turnout of 98 percent, while a polling place in Democratic inner-city Cleveland recorded an impossibly low turnout of 7 percent.
Latino, Native American, and African American voters in New Mexico who favored Kerry by two to one were five times more likely to have their ballots spoiled and discarded in districts supervised by Republican election officials. Many were readily given provisional ballots that subsequently were never counted. In these same Democratic areas Bush &ldquowon&rdquo an astonishing 68 to 31 percent upset victory. One Republican judge in New Mexico discarded hundreds of provisional ballots cast for Kerry, accepting only those that were for Bush.
Cadres of rightwing activists, many of them religious fundamentalists, were financed by the Republican Party. Deployed to key Democratic precincts, they handed out flyers warning that voters who had unpaid parking tickets, an arrest record, or owed child support would be arrested at the polls--all untrue. They went door to door offering to &ldquodeliver&rdquo absentee ballots to the proper office, and announcing that Republicans were to vote on Tuesday (election day) and Democrats on Wednesday.
Democratic poll watchers in Ohio, Arizona, and other states, who tried to monitor election night vote counting, were menaced and shut out by squads of GOP toughs. In Warren County, Ohio, immediately after the polls closed Republican officials announced a &ldquoterrorist attack&rdquo alert, and ordered the press to leave. They then moved all ballots to a warehouse where the counting was conducted in secret, producing an amazingly high tally for Bush, some 14,000 more votes than he had received in 2000. It wasn&rsquot the terrorists who attacked Warren County.
Bush Jr. also did remarkably well with phantom populations. The number of his votes in Perry and Cuyahoga counties in Ohio, exceeded the number of registered voters, creating turnout rates as high as 124 percent. In Miami County nearly 19,000 additional votes eerily appeared in Bush&rsquos column after all precincts had reported. In a small conservative suburban precinct of Columbus, where only 638 people were registered, the touchscreen machines tallied 4,258 votes for Bush.
In almost half of New Mexico&rsquos counties, more votes were reported than were recorded as being cast, and the tallies were consistently in Bush&rsquos favor. These ghostly results were dismissed by New Mexico&rsquos Republican Secretary of State as an &ldquoadministrative lapse.&rdquo
E xit polls showed Kerry solidly ahead of Bush Jr. in both the popular vote and the electoral college. Exit polls are an exceptionally accurate measure of elections. In the last three elections in Germany, for example, exit polls were never off by more than three-tenths of one percent. Unlike ordinary opinion polls, the exit sample is drawn from people who have actually just voted. It rules out those who say they will vote but never make it to the polls, those who cannot be sampled because they have no telephone or otherwise cannot be reached at home, those who are undecided or who change their minds about whom to support, and those who are turned away at the polls for one reason or another. Exit polls have come to be considered so reliable that international organizations use them to validate election results in countries around the world.
Republicans argued that in 2004 the exit polls were inaccurate because they were taken only in the morning when Kerry voters came out in greater numbers. (Apparently Bush voters are late sleepers.) In fact, the polling was done at random intervals all through the day, and the evening results were as much favoring Kerry as the earlier sampling. It was also argued that exit pollsters focused more on women (who favored Kerry) than men, or perhaps large numbers of taciturn Republicans were less inclined than chatty Democrats to talk to pollsters. No evidence was put forth to substantiate these fanciful speculations.
Most revealing, the discrepancies between exit polls and official tallies were never random but worked to Bush&rsquos advantage in ten of eleven swing states that were too close to call, sometimes by as much as 9.5 percent as in New Hampshire, an unheard of margin of error for an exit poll. In Nevada, Ohio, New Mexico, and Iowa exit polls registered solid victories for Kerry, yet the official tally in each case went to Bush, a mystifying outcome.
In states that were not hotly contested the exit polls proved quite accurate. Thus exit polls in Utah predicted a Bush victory of 70.8 to 26.4 percent the actual result was 71.1 to 26.4 percent. In Missouri, where the exit polls predicted a Bush victory of 54 to 46 percent, the final result was 53 to 46 percent.
One explanation for the strange anomalies in vote tallies was found in the widespread use of touchscreen electronic voting machines. These machines produced results that consistently favored Bush over Kerry, often in chillingly consistent contradiction to exit polls.
In 2003 more than 900 computer professionals had signed a petition urging that all touchscreen systems include a verifiable audit trail. Touchscreen voting machines can be easily programmed to go dead on election day or throw votes to the wrong candidate or make votes disappear while leaving the impression that everything is working fine. A tiny number of operatives can easily access the entire computer network through one machine and thereby change votes at will. The touchscreen machines use trade secret code, and are tested, reviewed, and certified in complete secrecy. Verified counts are impossible because the machines leave no reliable paper trail.
Since the introduction of touchscreen voting, anomalous congressional election results have been increasing. In 2000 and 2002, Senate and House contests and state legislative races in North Carolina, Nebraska, Alabama, Minnesota, Colorado, and elsewhere produced dramatic and puzzling upsets, always at the expense of Democrats who were substantially ahead in the polls. All of Georgia&rsquos voters used Diebold touchscreen machines in 2002, and Georgia&rsquos incumbent Democratic governor and incumbent Democratic senator, who were both well ahead in the polls just before the election, lost in amazing double-digit voting shifts.
In some counties in Texas, Virginia, and Ohio, voters who pressed the Democrat&rsquos name found that the GOP candidate was chosen. It never happened the other way. No one reported choosing a Republican and ending up with the Democrat. In Cormal County, Texas, three GOP candidates won the touchscreen contest by exactly 18,181 votes apiece, a near statistical impossibility.
This may be the most telling datum of all: In New Mexico in 2004 Kerry lost all precincts equipped with touchscreen machines, irrespective of income levels, ethnicity, and past voting patterns. The only thing that consistently correlated with his defeat in those precincts was the presence of the touchscreen machine itself. In Florida Bush registered inexplicably sharp jumps in his vote (compared to 2000) in counties that used touchscreen machines, including counties that had shown record increases in Democratic voter registration. 5
In sum, despite an arsenal of foul ploys that prevented people from voting, those who did get to vote still went decisively for Kerry--but had their votes subverted by a rigged system.
Companies like Diebold, Sequoia, and ES&S that market the touchscreen machines are owned by militant supporters of the Republican party. These companies have consistently refused to allow election officials to evaluate the secret voting machine software. Apparently corporate trade secrets are more important than voting rights. In effect, corporations have privatized the electoral system, leaving it susceptible to fixed outcomes. Caveat emptor.
Postscript. In the 2006 mid-term congressional elections, the Democrats won back the House with a 30-seat majority and the Senate by one seat. This might lead us to conclude that honest elections won the day. To be sure, the U.S. electoral system is a patchwork of fifty different state systems, all with additional county-level variations. So there must have been honestly conducted electoral proceedings in many parts of the country.
Still, what has to be explained is why the Democratic victory was so relatively slim. Given the massive crossover reported in the polls, why was it not a landslide of greater magnitude? From 15 to 30 percent of erstwhile Republican voters reportedly either switched or stayed home. Most Democratic gains in 2006 were in normally Republican, White, suburban, middle class districts. Meanwhile traditional Democratic strongholds held fairly firm. It seems the Republicans lost because while they focused on trying to suppress and undermine the Democratic base, they lost a large chunk of their own following.
In several states, residents in Democratic areas were confronted by purged registration lists, falsely based threats of arrest, and exacting voter ID requirements. Irregularities were so outrageous in Virginia that the FBI was called in. According to the polls, Senate Republican incumbent George Allen should have lost Virginia by a substantial margin instead of a few thousand votes. Touch screen irregularities and voter discouragement tactics helped him close the gap but not enough. In Florida&rsquos district 13, the Democratic candidate Christine Jennings lost by a few hundred votes after 18,000 ballots were lost by touchscreen machines that left no paper trail to rectify the situation.
Democrats lost another seat in Florida and at least two in Ohio, Harvey Wasserman reports, that they should have won according to the polls. The Democrats should have won the House by 50 or more seats and the Senate by a wider margin, Wasserman suggested in a radio interview (Pacifica, May 2007).
Touchscreen machines have been variously described as &ldquofaulty,&rdquo or ridden with &ldquoglitches.&rdquo This is not usually the case. If it were simply a matter of malfunction, the mistakes would occur randomly, rather than consistently favoring the GOP. What we are dealing with are not faulty machines but fixed machines.
The United States is the only country (as compared to Western Europe) that makes it difficult for people to vote. Historically the hurdles have been directed at low-income voters and ethnic minorities. In 2006, various states disqualified voters if their registration information failed to match perfectly with some other record such as a driver&rsquos license. Because of this at least 17 percent of eligible citizens in Arizona&rsquos largest county were denied registration. In some states persons who conduct voter registration drives risk criminal prosecution for harmless mistakes, including errors in collecting forms. In Florida some 50,000 voters were purged in 2004 (in addition to the many purged in 2000), many of them African-American, who still were unable to vote by 2006. In various states and counties the subterranean war against electoral democracy continues. 6
For these various irregularities, see New York Times, 30 November 2000 and 15 July 2001 Boston Globe, 30 November 2000 and 10 March 2001. A relevant documentary is Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election, L.A. Independent Media Center Film, 2004.
New York Times, 15 September 2002 the investigators were from California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Mark Crispin Miller, Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election and Why They&rsquoll Steal the Next One Too (Basic Books, 2005), 7-31, 262, and passim.
The 2000 election was uncommon not just for the close contest, but also the presence of a significant third-party candidate. Ralph Nader garnered a sizable, if proportionately small, vote, convincing many voters that there were no longer substantial differences between the Democrats and Republicans in contemporary politics. Here are the candidates for the leading parties on the ballot:
- Republican Party: George W. Bush and Richard Cheney
- Democratic Party: Albert Gore Jr. and Joseph Lieberman
- Green Party: Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke
- Reform Party: Patrick Buchanan and Ezola Foster
- Libertarian Party: Harry Browne and Art Olivier
History of Indian Parliament Elections (Lok Sabha)
The Indian parliament follows a bicameral system. It has two houses, namely the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) & the Loksabha (Lower House). The party (or a coalition) that gets a majority in the Loksabha gets to form the central government. The term of office is for a maximum period of 5 years or until such time the party (or a coalition) enjoys a majority in the Loksabha, whichever is earlier. Here is a look at the history of Lok Sabha Elections since independence. The data is sourced from the statistical reports of the Election Commission of India.
The Constituent Assembly (1946-49):
The Constituent Assembly, consisted of indirectly elected representatives and was set up for the purpose of drafting a constitution for India. It remained in being for almost three years, acting as the first parliament of India after independence in 1947. The Assembly was not elected on the basis of universal adult suffrage also Muslims and Sikhs were given special representation as minorities. The Constituent Assembly took almost three years (two years, eleven months and seventeen days to be precise) to complete its historic task of drafting the Constitution for Independent India.
The First Loksabha (1952-57):
It was the first ever election in the Indian Republic. Elections were held for 489 seats.The total number of eligible voters were about 17.3 crore. The Indian National Congress (INC) won 364. Only two other parties won double digit seats.The CPI with 16 seats and the Socialist Party with 12 seats. The Congress polled closed to 45% of the total vote. The Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS), the previous avatar of the BJP won only 3 seats. Independents won the second highest number of seats after Congress. Jawaharlal Nehru was elected the Prime Minister.
The Second Loksabha (1957-62):
Out of 494 seats, the Indian National Congress (INC) won 371. Only two other parties won double digit seats.The CPI with 27 seats and the Praja Socialist Party (PSP) with 19 seats. The Congress polled closed to 48% of the total vote. The BJS won only 4 seats. Once again, the Independents won the second highest number of seats after Congress. Jawaharlal Nehru was again elected the Prime Minister. There was no official Leader of Opposition during the second Loksabha (LoP).
The Third Loksabha (1962-67):
Out of 494 seats, the Indian National Congress (INC) won 361. In these elections, four other parties won double digit seats (CPI, Jan Sangh, Swatantra Party & PSP). The Congress vote share was reduced to about 45% from 48% in the previous election. Jawaharlal Nehru was elected the Prime Minister. But after he passed away in 1964, Gulzari lal Nanda was made the interim PM who was succeeded by Lal Bahadur Shastri who held the post for about 19 months before his death. Indira Gandhi then took over in 1966.
The Fourth Loksabha (1967-70):
The size of electorate in this election was about 25 crore. The Congress party under Indira Gandhi’s leadership won a 4th successive term to office by winning 283 out of 520 seats. But the vote share of Congress went down to about 41%. In these elections, six other parties won double digit seats with C Rajagopala Chari’s Swatantra Party winning 44 seats and emerging as the single largest opposition party. Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister for the second time.
The Fifth Loksabha (1971-77):
This was the first election after Indira Gandhi broke away from the Congress. Her party won a whopping 352 seats out of 518 with the other faction of Congress under Morarji Desai winning only 16 seats. Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister for the third time. It was during this time in 1975, that the emergency was imposed in the country that had a huge impact on the politics of India thereafter.
The Sixth Loksabha (1977-79):
These were the first elections after the emergency. Bharatiya Lok Dal (or the Janata party) emerged victorius in these elections defeating the congress for the first time.The BLD was formed at the end of 1974 through the fusion of seven parties opposed to the autocratic rule of Indira Gandhi, including the Swatantra Party, the Utkal Congress, the Bharatiya Kranti Dal, and the Socialist Party. In 1977, the BLD combined with the Jan Sangh and the Indian National Congress (Organization) to form the Janata Party. The newly formed Janata Party contested the 1977 elections on the BLD symbol and formed independent India’s first government not ruled by the Indian National Congress. The BLD won 295 of the 542 seats while congress could win only 154. Morarji Desai became the Prime Minister, but had to step down in 1979 after couple of parties in the Janata alliance pulled out. He was succeeded by Charan Singh.
The Seventh Loksabha (1980-84):
After the failure of the Janata experiment, Congress(I) under the leadership of Indira Gandhi bounced back to power winning a handsome 353 of the 529 seats on offer. The parties of the earlier Janata coalition could not repeat their performance in the previous election. There was no Leader of Opposition (LoP).
The Eighth Loksabha (1984-89):
After Indira Gandhi was assasinated,the anti-Sikh riots broke out in 1984. They were a series of pogroms directed against Sikhs in India, by anti-Sikh mobs, in response to the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Riding on the wave of sympathy, the Congress party under Rajiv Gandhi’s leadership (son of Indira Gandhi) came to power in a landslide victory.The Congress won 404 of the 514 seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made its electoral debut winning 2 seats, one in Gujarat and another in Andhra Pradesh (Now Telangana). Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister
The Ninth Loksabha (1989-91):
The Bofors scandal,LTTE and other issues worked against the Congress. There was a hung house for the first time with no party getting a majority. The Congress won 197, The Janata Dal 143 and the BJP 85 out of 529 seats. The BJP made impressive gains. The Janata Dal formed the National Front government with outside support from BJP and the left parties. Vishwanath Pratap Singh (VP Singh) became the Prime Minister. His rival in the Janata Dal, Chandra Shekhar broke away in 1990 and formed the Samajwadi Janata Party. As a result, VP Singh had to step down. Chandra Shekhar then became the Prime Minister in 1990 with the external support of Congress. Even this experiment lasted only for a shortwhile forcing general elections in just 2 years.
The Tenth Loksabha (1991-96):
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in the run upto the 1991 general elections by the LTTE. These elections were also termed as the ‘Mandal-Mandir’ elections after the two most important poll issues the Mandal Commission fallout and the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue.While the Mandal Commission report implemented by the VP Singh government gave 27 per cent reservation to the Other Backward Castes (OBCs) in government jobs, the Mandir issue referred to the debate over the disputed Babri Masjid structure at Ayodhya, which the Bharatiya Janata Party was using as its major electoral issue.The Mandir issue led to numerous riots in many parts of the country and the electorate was polarized on caste and religious lines. No party could get a majority. Congress emerged as the single largest party with 232 seats while the BJP won 120 seats out of 521 seats. P V Narasimha Rao headed a minority government and was the first person from South India to occupy the Prime Minister’s chair. He is credited with ushering in economic reforms and also identifying Manmohan Singh who went onto become the Prime Minister.
The Eleventh Loksabha (1996-98):
The Indian National Congress came into the election on the back of several government scandals and accusations of mishandling. There were various factions within the congress. The BJP grew from strength to strength and emerged as the single largest party in a hung house. The BJP won 161 eats, Congress 140 and the Janata Dal 46. The rise of regional parties started with this election. The regional parties won 129 seats. Prominent among them were TDP, Shivsena & the DMK. As per the prevailing custom, the President invited BJP to form the government. The BJP attempted to build a coalition, but could not go far and Atal Bihari Vajpayee had to resign as the PM in 13 days. His resignation address in the Loksabha is well known. The Congres Party declined to form the government but chose to extend outside support to Janata Dal and other smaller parties that formed into the ‘United Front’. Out of nowhere, H D Devegowda became the Prime Minister and he lasted for 18 months before he had to step down and make way for I K Gujral. He also could not last long following differences within the Janata Dal.
The Twelfth Loksabha (1998-99):
The BJP emerged as the single largest party with 182 seats out of 543. Congress won 141 and the other regional parties won 101 seats. The BJP formed the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with other regional parties. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sworn in as the Prime Minister for the second time. His government could not last long and he had to resign after 13 months in office after the AIADMK withdrew support. The NDA lost by just one vote when Dr. Giridhar Gamang, the then Chief Minister of Odisha and also a MP, voted against the NDA. The nuclear tests at Pokhran, The Kargil war were some of the important incidents in this term.
The Thirteenth Loksabha (1999-2004):
These elections were held in the backdrop of the Kargil war. The BJP again emerged as the single largest party with 182 seats while the congress could win only 114. This time the regional parties won 158 seats. The BJP was able to form a more stable NDA this time around and this was the first time that a non congress alliance lasted a full five year term. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sworn in as the Prime Minister for the third time.
The Fourteenth Loksabha (2004-09):
The BJP went in for early elections alongside launching an ‘India Shining’ campaign. Though it could win the middle class vote, the poorer sections voted for the Congress and other regional parties resulting in the defeat of the NDA. The BJP could win only 138 seats while the Congress improved its tally to 145. The regional parties again ruled the roost with 159 seats. The BJP conceded defeat and the Congress then formed the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) with support from other parties and outside support from the left parties. Sonia Gandhi refused to become the Prime Minister amidst the controversy about her foreign origin. Manmohan Singh was chosen as the Prime Minister.
The Fifteenth Loksabha (2009-14):
The Congress led UPA implemented a lot of its promises including the enactment of Right to Information (RTI) & the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). It also waived off farm loans in 2008. Against this background, it went into the polls in 2009. The NDA on the other hand was led by L K Advani. The Congress won 206 seats, a huge improvement from 2004. The BJP could win only 116. The regional parties won 146 seats. The UPA came to power for the second term in a row. Dr. Manmohan Singh was sworn in as the Prime Minister for the second time.
The Sixteenth Loksabha (2014-19):
The second term of the UPA proved to be a disaster with numerous allegations of corruption & scams. 2G, Coal Block, Adarsh, Commonwealth Games to name a few. The silence of the Prime Minister and the perception that he had no real power made matters worse. The BJP was successfully able to project Narendra Modi as the man of the hour and also as its Prime Ministerial candidate. Rahul Gandhi could not match Narendra Modi. The BJP won majority on its own with 282 seats while the Congress recorded its worst ever performance with just 44 seats. This was the first time since 1984 that a party won a majority on its own.
The Seventeenth Loksabha (2014-19):
Riding the wave of Nationalism, popular schemes and the lack of an alternative leader who can match Narendra Modi, the BJP romped home with an increased mandate. Narendra Modi led BJP won 303 seats on its own and crossed the 350 mark with its NDA allies. Narendra Modi became only the 3rd person in India’s history to have secured a single party majority two times in a row, after Jawaharlal Nehru & Indira Gandhi. The Congress received a drubbing again winning only 52 seats. Congress President Rahul Gandhi even lost the election from Amethi.