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Bush v. Gore

Exposing the Hidden Crisis in American Democracy

Charles L. Zelden

September 2008
416 pages, 6 x 9
Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-1593-3, $34.95 (t)

book cover imageThe infamous 2000 presidential election produced hanging chads, butterfly ballots, endless recounts, raucous allegations, and a constitutional crisis—until a controversial Supreme Court decision allowed George W. Bush to become president despite losing the popular vote to Al Gore. Charles L. Zelden presents the definitive history of this vexing and acrimonious affair, offering the most complete, up-to-date, and accurate analysis of a remarkable episode in American politics. Zelden probes deeper than any other scholar has sought to do—showing that both the election controversy of 2000 and Bush v. Gore signaled major flaws in our electoral system that remain with us today, exposing a hidden crisis in American democracy.

Zelden, who lives and teaches in Broward County (one of the key recount sites), distills the voluminous literature on Bush v. Gore in his sharply insightful and balanced account of the election crisis and the litigation that followed. Tracing the back-and-forth between concessions and retractions, Gore and Bush attorneys, and state and federal courts, he underscores the extraordinary clock-ticking tension between statutory deadlines governing the electoral process and the desire to have every vote counted and counted accurately.

Zelden offers a nonpartisan analysis of the legal opinions in the case, particularly the Supreme Court’s ruling; he explores the judicial philosophy underlying the reasoning of each justice. His book invites readers to consider the case independent of their personal views of the candidates and reorients our view of the crisis to emphasize the failures of the system rather than the election of a president by apparent judicial decree. He sets all of these events, issues, and legal rulings within their proper historical context, making complex issues easy to understand and also reviewing events of the succeeding seven years in light of the decision.

As Zelden shows, the true tragedy of 2000 was the failure of every person and every institution involved—especially the Supreme Court—to take this crisis as an opportunity to diagnose the problems of our broken electoral system and to urge its repair. We may prefer to put this decision behind us, but we ignore it—and its lessons—at our peril.

"A must-read for anyone who cares about the future of American democracy."—Dallas Morning News

“A superior achievement. Zelden writes clearly and precisely, laying the issues out patiently and thereby presenting a convincing account of such matters as overvotes and undervotes and dimpled and hanging chads. I also admire his nonpartisan restraint. While it’s clear that he finds aspects of the Court’s decision disappointing or unconvincing, he doesn’t have a large axe to grind, which is what makes his critique so persuasive.”—James T. Patterson, Bancroft Prize winner and author of Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore

“A comprehensive and thoughtful study of the high-stakes legal drama of the 2000 presidential election. Zelden doggedly documents the strategies of the troops of lawyers from the Bush and Gore camps, the seesaw of court victories and defeats, the transparent machinations of the local political machinery . . . [and] the prejudices and predilections of the Florida judges who had a role in the dispute. He is especially attentive to the rationales of individual Supreme Court justices . . . But his most heartfelt point is that the electoral process—the bedrock of democracy—is broken, and that without significant reform American democracy is threatened. . . . His concerns about restoring the integrity of the electoral process are provocative and timely.”—Publishers Weekly

“Zelden offers a thorough analysis of the legal arguments behind the Supreme Court decision Bush v. Gore, making clear that his book is not a history of the 2000 election itself but an examination of the election’s legal issues and their aftermath. . . . He believes that ignoring the lessons of the decision has harmed American democracy . . . [and he] addresses the problems that have persisted since 2000 and how they have not been solved.”—Library Journal

“A well-written, highly readable, and scrupulous account.”—Robert J. Spitzer, author of The Presidency and the Constitution

CHARLES L. ZELDEN is professor of history at Nova Southeastern University. His previous books include Battle for the Black Ballot: Smith v. Allwright and the Defeat of the Texas All-White Primary and Voting Rights on Trial. He was an on-air commentator during the 2000 election for the local NBC News affiliate in Miami and other media.


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