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Bush v. Gore

    Brief Fact Summary.

    George W. Bush sought certiorari under the United States Supreme Court after Al Gore sought a recount of Florida’s electoral votes for the 2000 Presidential election.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Where the results of a presidential election are contested, the Equal Protection Clause requires states to maintain uniform rules regarding the recount of votes.

    Facts.

    This case concerns the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush (Bush) and Al Gore (Gore). Although Gore won the popular vote, 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 relied on a Florida statute to request a manual recount of the Florida votes. The statute allowed for the recount of votes where there was an influx of illegal votes or rejection of legal votes. Gore, however, 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 under the United States Supreme Court.

    Issue.

    Whether the manual recount of votes violates the Equal Protection Clause?

    Held.

    Yes. Individual citizens are not permitted to vote for electors of the President of the United States. The decision of the Florida Supreme Court is reversed.

    Dissent.

    (Stevens, J.) The Florida Supreme Court has the power to issue a recount of votes as it pertains to a presidential election and such an action does not violate the Equal protection Clause. The decision to end the recount deprives a number of voters of their right to place their ballots.

    (Souter, J.) A state is not required to comply with the state harbor provision if it cannot do so. Therefore, Florida did not violate the Safe Harbor Provision by recounting electoral votes. Second, the state statute governing contesting the outcome of an election does not change a state law in violation of U.S.C. Article II, § 1, Clause 2 because the contest was authorized by state statute and the trial court judge maintained discretion over the contest under the Florida Constitution. Finally, Florida did not have enough time to announce a new standard for recounting votes under the six-day election deadline.

    (Ginsburg, J.) The Florida Supreme Court properly interpreted it’s own state law and a state’s interpretation of it’s own law is entitled to stand. Similarly, Bush has not asserted a valid Equal Protection Clause claim because there is no determination that the recount would not be consistent with the former election results.

    (Breyer, J.) The Supreme Court should not have made the decision to stop the recount because there is no evidence that the Florida Supreme Court could not recount the votes in the time allotted. Stopping the recount deprived legal votes to be considered towards the outcome of the election. Similarly, the state supreme court was the only court qualified to hear the claim because Bush sought relief on the interpretation of state law.

    Concurrence.

    (Rehnquist, J.) The Florida Supreme Court’s decision is also correct due to the violation of the Safe Harbor provision in 3 U.S.C. § 5. The federal safe harbor provision requires that a state’s determination of electors in a presidential election is final if decided prior to election day, however, in Florida, the electors were determined after the election day. The Florida Supreme Court therefore violated the safe harbor provision.

    Discussion.

    Issues will be created in the weight of each vote if some ballot cards are completely perforated and others are not. The Florida Supreme Court required that those ballots that were not completely perforated to be examined to determine who each voter intended to vote for. This determination under the Florida Supreme Court does not provide a uniform standard for recounting votes.


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