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Thursday, 14 December, 2000, 00:45 GMT
The long road to the White House
Protestors outside the US Supreme Court
The Supreme Court decided an election for the first time
By BBC Washington Correspondent Tom Carver

This was the closest American election in more than a century.

Several times after the polls closed, the TV networks changed their predictions, before finally calling it for George Bush.

The Texas Governor got ready to deliver his victory speech and at Bush's headquarters in Austin, Texas, the celebrations began.
Vice President Al Gore
Al Gore had his concession speech ready but stopped at the last minute

Over in Tennessee at Al Gore's camp, there was a very different atmosphere. Their man had received more votes but had captured fewer states and had failed to secure the all-important Electoral College.

Having already phoned George Bush to congratulate him, the vice president set off to deliver his concession speech.

But during the car ride, his aides received an update from Florida. Only a few thousand votes now separated them - close enough to qualify for a recount.

Mr Gore never made his speech. Instead, his campaign manager told the waiting cameras that the fight went on.

The court battle begins

Both sides dispatched teams of lawyers to Florida - the courts, it seemed, would decide the election.

There were immediate reports of voting irregularities. The Democrats demanded selected areas be recounted by hand, claiming their supporters had been disenfranchised by confusing ballot papers and broken voting machines.

After the votes came in from absentee ballots - mostly military personnel living abroad - George Bush's lead stood at 950 votes, out of a total of six million cast in Florida.

Mr Bush met with his advisers to plan the transition to the White House, claiming the people had spoken. Mr Gore insisted it was not over.

The supreme courts

Florida's Supreme Court agreed with the vice president and extended the deadline for a recount by 12 days.
Florida State Troopers carry ballots
More than a million votes were trucked across the state under police protection

However, in the end, only one county, Broward, managed to finish on time. Miami-Dade gave up half way through. Palm Beach County missed the deadline by a couple of hours.

Three weeks after election day, Katherine Harris, the state's senior election official - a Republican with close ties to George Bush - finally certified the Florida result: a Bush win by a mere 537 votes.

Republicans urged Mr Gore to concede, but he refused to give in, insisting that there were still more ballots that had not been counted properly.

More than a million votes were trucked across the state under armed guard in case a judge allowed another recount.

But the judge, Justice Saunders Sauls threw it out. Al Gore appealed again to the Florida Supreme Court.
US Supreme Court
The case and the election ended in the US Supreme Court

Again they supported him and ordered the immediate recount of some 40,000 "undervotes" (votes that had been rejected by a counting machine as a no-vote).

But the US Supreme Court halted the count almost as soon as it had begun, after an appeal by George Bush.

For the first time in American history the election of a president was effectively decided by nine unelected judges.


State-by-state guide

Inauguration:

Bush presidency:

PICTURE GALLERIES

Texts and transcripts:

AUDIO VIDEO

TALKING POINT
See also:

14 Dec 00 | Americas
Bush to lead a nation divided
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