Presidential Elections

Disputes, Anomalies, and Close-Calls

Which are the most disputed elections in American history?

Historians generally rank the elections of 1824, 1876, and 2000 as the most controversial elections in American history. In the 1824 election, Andrew Jackson won the popular vote in a four-way race, but lost the presidency to John Quincy Adams after the election was thrown into the House of Representatives. Jackson supporters maintained there was a “corrupt bargain” between Adams and the fourth-place finisher, Speaker of the House Henry Clay. There were claims that Adams’s appointment of Clay to the post of secretary of state—a position then viewed as a stepping-stone to the presidency—was part of a deal struck in return for Clay persuading his House supporters to select Adams over Jackson. The 1876 election, conducted in the tense decade following the Civil War (1861–1965), also failed to determine a winner in the electoral college. Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote but ultimately lost to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in a vote of a Republican-majority election commission. Like the 2000 election, Florida also played a key role in the election of 1876, as one of the hotly contested states. The election of 2000 between Al Gore and George W. Bush has unquestionably been the most disputed election of modern times—raising issues of balloting problems, including high rates of spoiled, unmarked, or uncounted ballots in Florida and other states; the vote-counting and certification process; the legal validity of absentee ballots; and the legal parameters of vote counts, an issue that reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In fact, some have drawn parallels to the election of 1876, claiming that Bush “stole” Florida, much like Hayes “stole” the southern states more than 120 years ago.


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