Bush v. Gore: How a Recount Dispute Affects Voting Today

The dramatic controversy surrounding the 2000 presidential election led to sweeping voting reforms, but opened the door to a new set of problems that continue to affect elections today.

The recount of votes in Florida during the 2000 election focused worldwide attention on the country’s antiquated and disorganized voting system: chads (hanging, dimpled, pregnant or otherwise), confusing ballots, under-votes and over-votes. A bipartisan consensus soon emerged that the mechanics of voting needed to be improved. But the election also reminded many politicians that a few hundred votes could mean the difference between winning and losing. Nearly two decades later, the rules of voting are more controversial – and politicized – than ever.

Related: 16 Years After Bush v. Gore, Still Wrestling With Ballot-Box Rules by Clyde Haberman

Previous versions
At Retro Report, we update our journalism as news unfolds. Here are the previous published versions of this story.
For teachers
  • Read transcript
  • Producer: Stephen Ives
  • Producer: Amanda Pollak
  • Sr. Producer: Scott Michels
  • Editor: Anne Alvergue
  • Update Producer: Sianne Garlick
  • Update Editor: Heru Muharrar

For Educators


After the 2000 election night ended with no clear winner and exposed flaws in our voting system, there was a push for reforms to make elections run more smoothly. This 12-minute video introduces students to the turmoil and confusion of the Bush v. Gore election recount, and illustrates the surprising and unintended aftermath of that event: Instead of reforms, there was a change toward an even more politicized electoral process. Useful as an introduction to the Bush v. Gore election controversy, the video can also be used to set up a conversation about the past and future of voting rights and voter suppression.

Background reading

In 2000, the presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore was so close that it ended with a fiercely contested recount of Florida votes. After more than a month the Supreme Court stopped the recount (Bush v. Gore) and Bush was awarded Florida’s electoral votes. That spurred a bipartisan movement for electoral reform designed to prevent the type of nightmarish confusion that rocked the country for weeks after Election Day.

To that end, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2003, which required states and municipalities to update their election procedures with electronic voting machines, improved methods of voter registration and better training for poll workers. But HAVA left it to each state to work out the details of its new rules, and the results were uneven. Some states rewrote their laws in ways that made it tougher for many people to cast ballots. Others eased access to the polls.

By 2011, many states had passed voter ID laws that were tougher than HAVA required. Those laws disproportionately affected the poor, the elderly and people of color, all groups that lean toward Democrats. Some Democrats charged that Republicans were trying to suppress the vote. Republicans countered that they were trying to ensure that everyone who voted had the legal right to do so. One legacy of the 2000 election is the modern day dispute over voting rights.

Lesson Plan 1: Campaigns and Elections: The 2000 Election

Students will learn why the 2000 presidential election, a race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, was decided by the Supreme Court, and how that led to changes that continue to influence our elections today.

  • How the 2000 presidential election was perceived and experienced by the citizens of that era.
  • How the controversy surrounding the disputed 2000 election failed to bring about a successful resolution of the country’s longstanding disputes over electoral procedure and voting rights.
  • How the Bush-Gore election of 2000 relates to modern disputes over voting rights and electoral reform.
Essential questions
  • Why did the Supreme Court stop the Florida recount?
  • What changes were made under HAVA (the Help America Vote Act)?
  • How did HAVA contribute to increased partisan polarization and politicization of the electoral process?
  • Common Core State Standards
    • CCSS.ELA.LITERACY.RI.11-12.3:Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequences of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact or develop over the course of a text.
    • CCSS.ELA.LITERACY.RH.11-12.7:Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
  • National Council for the Social Studies C3 Framework
    • D2.His.14.9-12.Analyze multiple and complex causes and effect of events in the past.
    • D2.Civ.13.9-12.Evaluate public policies in terms of intended and unintended outcomes, and related consequences.
    • D2.His.13.9-12.Critique the appropriateness of the historical sources used in a secondary interpretation.
  • AP U.S. History
    • Topic 9.6: Challenges of the 21st Century

      Skill 2.C: Explains the significance of a source’s point of view, purpose, and historical situation.

      Theme 5: Politics and power (PCE).

  • AP Government and Politics
    • Unit 5: Political ParticipationTopic 5.3: Political Parties
      Topic 5.8: Electing a President
      Topic 5.9: Congressional Elections
      Topic 5.10: Modern Campaigns