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Tuesday, 12 December, 2000, 11:23 GMT
Flashback to 1876: History repeats itself
white house
The White House: entry via the Supreme Court
Two men claim victory in the US presidential election, and the sunshine state is awash with high-profile lawyers, amid accusations of fraud and confusing ballot papers.

But the year is 1876. And the contenders are Republican Rutherford Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden.

As the Supreme Court justices effectively decided the outcome of the election, commentators were quick to label the protracted election battle as "unprecedented".

Other close elections
1880: Garfield 48.3%, Hancock 48.3%
1884: Cleveland 48.5%, Blaine 48.2%
1844: Polk 49.5%, Clay 48.1%
1876: Tilden 51.0%, Hayes 48.0%
Yet more than 100 years ago, a similar election dispute was played out to the bitter end - and then, too, the frontline of the battle was in Florida.

Civil war general Rutherford Hayes was sworn into office in 1876, despite New York governor Samuel Tilden initially appearing to have won the popular vote.

Throughout President Hayes' single term presidency he was derided by Democrats as "His Fraudulency" and "His Accidency".

Mr Tilden's supporters believed their man had been cheated out of his four-year residence in the White House.

The 'rooster ballot'

Although Mr Tilden was at first thought to have won the popular vote, three southern states - Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina - disqualified Democratic votes because of a confusing ballot paper.

The real Samuel Tilden
It was neither pregnant chads nor butterfly ballots that caused the commotion, but a misleading illustrated ballot paper.

To make allowances for widespread illiteracy in the 19th Century, Democrats were portrayed on the ballot paper with their mascot, a cockerel, while Republicans used a picture of Abraham Lincoln.

But in 1876, the Democrats printed ballots with Tilden's name, alongside Lincoln's face.

Rival electoral college slates

Perhaps foreshadowing the 2000 election, Florida sent two slates of electoral votes - one Republican, the other Democrat - to Congress.

In an attempt to resolve the dispute, Congress created an electoral commission of five Senators, five Representatives, and five Supreme Court Justices.

Eight members were Republicans and seven were Democrats, and the commission split along party lines, awarding the presidency to Mr Hayes.

Wanting better guidelines for such a situation next time, Congress later passed a law essentially telling states they could not change the rules for selecting electors after the election had been held.

That statute came into play in arguments before the US Supreme Court this year.


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