Despite our identity as a democratic constitutional republic, the United States has had many election disputes that have caused unease throughout the country. In many cases, Congress had to step in and perform its rare job of settling ties in the Electoral College to decide on a president, while more recently the courts have been called in to help.
In 1800, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr received the same number of votes in the Electoral College. This problem forced the House of Representatives to meet and vote to choose the winner. Instead of letting each representative vote for their preferred candidate, the state delegations consisting of all representatives from the state would cast a single vote for their state. In this case, it took multiple rounds of voting for Jefferson to win a majority of the state delegations and be declared the winner.
In 1960, the presidential election between Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat John F. Kennedy was considered one of the earliest examples of a contested election based on allegations of voter fraud. Kennedy’s victory was slim, and many Republicans accused Democrats of using voter fraud to inch out a win. Nixon refused to call out any voter fraud, accepting the election results even though other Republicans had already begun recount efforts for him. The Republicans would eventually abandon most claims of voter fraud, accepting the results to avoid a potential crisis that had not occurred in so long.
Perhaps the most consequential example of a disputed presidential election would be the 2000 vote between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore. The main controversy occurred in Florida, a swing state whose winner would determine the election’s outcome. At first, the media said Gore won, then that Bush won, and then refused to declare a winner even after Gore had conceded to Bush personally.
Other confusing ballots with punch holes not properly punched (called “hanging chads”) and the confusing “butterfly ballot” that mistakenly caused voters to vote for third-party candidate Pat Buchanan led to a huge national debate over the validity of the 2000 presidential election. To top it all off, Al Gore had won the popular vote and lost out in the Electoral College vote, which had only happened a few times before in American history.
Attitudes from the 2000 election still resonate today, with many Americans believing that a Supreme Court case may once again dictate the winner of the presidential election. Before the 2020 election, both Democrats and Republicans urged their candidates not to concede, especially with the uncertainty mass mail-in voting had brought. Fears about this election are not unwarranted, but America has a proper procedure for the peaceful transition of power that will surely be followed despite any refusals to concede before the end of the year.