Too close to call
Tight U.S. presidential elections have been decided by the House of
Representatives, by an Electoral Commission in the Compromis
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 3, 2004 08:34 AM
Once again, Americans went to bed on election night without knowing
who will be sworn in as president in January.
It was an election-night replay of 2000, when the race between George
W. Bush and Al Gore hinged on disputed results in Florida. It would
take weeks - and a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court - to become final.
For younger voters, the drawn-out election of 2000 was a new
experience. But as the controversy raged over Florida, older
Americans remembered the 1976 presidential election, in which Jimmy
Carter wasn't declared the winner over Gerald Ford until the wee
hours of the morning after the election.
Through much of the campaign, then-President Ford trailed in the
polls as the Republican Party tried to rid itself of the Watergate
scandal that forced out Richard Nixon and put Ford at the helm. Ford,
who had pardoned Nixon after assuming the presidency, made big gains
in the closing weeks.
It was daybreak on the East Coast when Carter was declared the winner
with 297 electoral votes and 51.1 percent of the popular vote.
Before Carter and Ford, another long election night in modern times
was in 1960, when John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon. It was the
next day before America found out that Kennedy won 303 electoral
votes to 219, but the margin in the popular vote was less than
The 1968 election is of note, not because a winner wasn't declared on
election night, but because the popular vote was much closer than
expected. Richard Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey 301-191 in the Electoral
College but the popular vote was 31,710,470 to 30,898,055.
In American history, election night had much less cachet without the
modern news media but other presidential elections had similarities
to the 2000 vote in that higher levels of government determined the
In 1876, Samuel Tilden lost to Rutherford B. Hayes on an electoral
vote that hinged on three Southern states where voting fraud was
The controversy resulted in a congressional commission that would
decide the outcome of the election.
The commission voted 8-7 along party lines to declare Hayes the
winner. The results received final approval on March 2, 1877, three
days before the inauguration.
In 1800, although Aaron Burr ran for vice president on the Democratic-
Republican ticket with Thomas Jefferson, there wasn't a separate
ballot for president and vice president. Both received an equal
number of electoral votes, which threw the election into the House of
Representatives. The House deliberated from Feb. 11, 1801 to Feb. 17
and voted 36 times. Jefferson drew support from Hamilton's Federalist
Party and won. Burr became vice president. What if that election had
swung the other way and Burr had won?
"We would have had an abolitionist president in 1800, which would
have been quite different," says Roger Kennedy, former director of
the National Park Service, who has written several books about Burr
Kennedy envisions these developments: Not permitting slavery in the
territories of the Louisiana Purchase, a violent confrontation
between North and South decades before the Civil War (with the North
still winning), a war with Mexico much earlier than 1848, Texas
joining the United States decades earlier and one more scenario worth
pondering: "We probably would have had the first women appointed to
significant posts in the federal government, probably a full century
before that happened."
From Republic research. Michael Precker of the Dallas Morning News
contributed to this article.