East Tennessee History: Tennessee elects a president
With the election winding down and the last votes officially counted, we have witnessed one of the wonders of a modern democracy. No other form of government allows for the peaceful transition of power every four or eight years. In the end we may disagree with each other, but we accept that all of us have a vote and an opinion.
Tennessee has played some interesting roles in electing a president over the last 240 years. The first one that comes to my mind is the election of 2000.
For those who are too young to remember that election, I can only say that it was one of the most controversial elections in American history, and Tennessee played a big role in the election’s outcome.
Al Gore, a prominent senator from Tennessee and the former vice-president under President Bill Clinton, ran against George W. Bush, a son of former President George H. W. Bush.
From the beginning the race was closely fought. The polls predicted that the contest would be decided by three to five percentage points, but no one expected it to be as close as it really was.
When election night came, Bush and Gore traded the Electoral College lead until up in the morning. At one point during the night of counting, Florida was predicted to go to Gore who would have enough states to be the president.
Within a few hours and as the votes were still being counted, Florida was placed in the undecided column again. It wasn’t long before Florida was given to Bush, and by daylight he had declared himself the winner.
The counting continued the next day, and it soon became evident that the entire election was going to hinge on the votes in Florida.
Over the next few days, controversy began to surround the ballots in Florida. Florida, which used a punch card system for ballots, were throwing out votes that did not have the card completely punched. To count a vote, the tiny piece of the card (referred to as the chad) that was punched had to be punched completely through.
Votes were not counted that only had an indentation in the card, and these were referred to as pregnant chads. Ballots that had the chads still attached were referred to as hanging chads and also not counted.
A recount occurred over the next few weeks. Finally, the Supreme Court heard the case and ruled by a 5-4 majority that the recount should stop. This left George W. Bush with 271 electoral college votes, while Al Gore had 266 electoral college votes. George Bush was named president.
When the dust cleared in Florida, George Bush had won the state by an official total of 537 votes.
Gore, who came from a well-known political family in Tennessee, had lost the electoral college votes but won the popular votes by 500,000 votes. Gore chose to never run for president again.
The biggest fact about this election to me is not how close it became but that Al Gore, a senator from Tennessee and a native of Tennessee, lost his home state. If he had won Tennessee’s 11 electoral college votes, he would have won the election and Florida would have been a non-issue.
A majority of Tennessee voters had reelected Bill Clinton in the election of 1996. Why did Gore fail to win his home state?
Some say he was out of touch with most Tennesseans who saw him as just another Washington D.C. politician who really didn’t understand his home state. The truth is we will never know why he lost Tennessee.
What we do know is that when Tennessee rejected one of its native sons on that faithful election day in 2000, we were electing a president and changing our nation’s history forever.
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