In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a Florida Supreme Court request for a selective manual recount of that state’s U.S. presidential election ballots in regards to the 2000 presidential election. The decision effectively awarded Florida’s 25 electoral votes–and thus the election itself–to Republican candidate George W. Bush.
Where the results of a presidential election are contested, the Equal Protection Clause requires states to maintain uniform rules regarding the recount of votes.
In 2000, during the presidential election between George W. Bush (Bush) and Al Gore (Gore), Gore won the popular vote. Nevertheless, the outcome of the election was dependent upon the 25 electoral votes from the state of Florida. After the deadline passed for counting votes and no winner was determined from Florida’s electoral votes, Gore requested a manual recount of the Florida votes, relying on Florida statute which allowed for the recount of votes where there was an influx of illegal votes or rejection of legal votes. However, Gore failed to provide a “reasonable probability” that the election would have turned out differently. The Florida Supreme Court reversed under the conception that the trial court improperly defined “reasonable probability,” and required Gore to prove that an influx of illegal votes were used or legal votes were excluded in the voting count. Bush sought certiorari and a stay of the recount.
Does the Florida Supreme Court’s scheme for recounting ballots unconstitutionally violate the Equal Protection Clause?
Yes, the Florida Supreme Court’s scheme for recounting ballots unconstitutionally violates the Equal Protection Clause.
The Equal Protection Clause guarantees individuals that their ballots cannot by “later arbitrary and disparate treatment” value one person’s vote over that of another. The right to vote is protected in more than the initial allocation of the franchise. Equal protection applies as well to the manner of its exercise. Although a recount may be fair in theory, it is unfair in practice because the evidence here suggested that different standards were applied from ballot to ballot and county to county. Additionally, the Florida Supreme Court’s decision created new election law–a right reserved for the state legislature. Due to these considerations, the Court held that no constitutional recount could be fashioned in the short time remaining.