A look at the four most disputed presidential elections in American history

Mildred Europa Taylor November 03, 2020
Supreme Court of the United States. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

All eyes are on the Supreme Court again as Americans head to the polls to decide whether Donald Trump remains in the White House for another four years. Amid the heated campaigns ahead of the election have been Trump’s voter fraud allegations and other voter suppression claims.

With these controversies and the fact that millions of Americans are voting by mail, legal experts have warned of a possible contested presidential election.

Indeed, the U.S. has a history of presidential elections that a vote alone couldn’t resolve. From Thomas Jefferson’s victory in 1800 to George W Bush’s win over Al Gore in 2000, here are four times the results of a presidential election were contested:


Before the 12th Amendment, Electoral College members each had two votes for president, with no official tickets. Any candidate who gets the most votes was president, and the one who takes the second place becomes vice president. In the 1800 election, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr each received 73 electoral votes — the vote ended in a tie. Per the U.S. Constitution, the House of Representatives must then select the next president but it wasn’t easy arriving at this decision.

In February 1801 when legislators started voting, neither Jefferson nor Blurr was able to get the support of more than eight of the 16 states that were in place at the time. For a week, House members voted 35 times. Each time, Jefferson failed to get the needed majority. It was on the 36th time that Jefferson won 10 states and he became president with Burr as veep.


Andrew Jackson won the popular vote and the most votes in the Electoral College. Among four presidential candidates, records show that Jackson took 99 Electoral College votes; Secretary of State John Quincy Adams had 84, Treasury Secretary William Crawford earned 41 and House Speaker Henry Clay won 37.

As no candidate won a majority of the votes, the House had to intervene and since it could only select a victor among only three candidates, Clay was kicked out. Jackson was optimistic about grabbing the presidency considering he had won the popular vote and Electoral College but Clay’s supporters threw their weight behind Adams. At the end of the day, Adams won the majority of the House vote. Adams selected Clay as his secretary of state while Jackson accused the two of a “corrupt bargain” and vacated his Senate seat.


Dubbed the most contentious presidential election in American history, the contest was then between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden. Tilden beat Hayes, winning the popular vote, and gaining 19 more votes in the Electoral College. But he became one Electoral College vote short of the 185 he needed to win.

Four states with a total of 20 votes also disputed the results, with fraud allegations also rising among parties in the Southern states. Congress, to resolve the disputes, created a 15-member commission consisting of seven Republicans, seven Democrats and an independent.

The independent was David Davis, a Supreme Court Justice who was later replaced by Justice Joseph Bradley. Bradley, a Republican, would go on to “cast every vote for Hayes”, giving him the votes he needed for a majority. The Democrats first kicked against the results but later accepted after Republicans agreed to withdraw U.S. troops that had been in the South under Reconstruction.


The year 2000 was the first time the U.S. Supreme Court decided a presidential election, when the race between Republican George W. Bush and then-Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat, came down to Florida’s 25 electoral votes.

The media first declared Gore the winner of Florida when polls closed, but by night, things had changed as Bush’s tally increased. By the following morning, the state’s count saw Bush leading Gore by some thousand votes. Gore called for the ballots of four of Florida’s biggest counties to be recounted by hand and this manual recount went on for weeks.

Three weeks after the election, while recounts were still ongoing, Florida declared that Bush had won by 537 votes. Gore then sued in Florida court demanding that the recounts continue. The Florida Supreme Court subsequently ordered a recount of ballots that had been rejected by counting machines after being incompletely punched. Bush then headed to the U.S. Supreme Court asking for that decision to be reversed.

On December 12, the U.S. Supreme Court put a stop to that count, ruling that counting ballots in different ways in different counties violated the constitution. Gore accepted the Supreme Court’s decision and conceded the election to Bush.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: November 3, 2020


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