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Elections, Contested


ELECTIONS, CONTESTED. A contested election is an election in which the results are challenged. Challenges may come from one or more candidates in an election for public office, or in response to the declared result of a question voted on in the election, from petitioners, voters or designated election officials. Grounds for contesting include any canvassing or counting irregularities, deliberate violations of election laws, and the ineligibility of a candidate who is declared elected. Primarily a legal matter, contests are generally settled in civil court or by a legislative body, depending on state law. Election laws in the United States are not uniform, however, and rules for proceeding with a legal challenge vary.

Once the proceeding is initiated, either the contestant or the contestee may investigate any aspect of the election night process, including the inspection or re-count of ballots. This may involve repeating parts of the election process to gather evidence for trial. The contest is judged by whichever authority is empowered to declare a winner. For most state and local offices, election contests are judged by regular civil courts. For some municipal, state, and federal legislative offices, the legislature judges the qualifications of its own members. In the U.S. House of Representatives, for example, the House has the final word on elections, including determining the eligibility of the declared winner—a provision reaffirmed by court cases in the 1970s. Congress has also decided contested presidential elections: in 1800 the House chose Thomas Jefferson over Aaron Burr, and in 1876 a House-approved panel chose Rutherford B. Hayes over Samuel J. Tilden. In the 2000 election, however, it was the U.S. Supreme Court that determined the outcome when they upheld a deadline that ended Al Gore's recount of Florida ballots in several contested precincts. Gore conceded to George W. Bush the next day, thirty-six days after the election.


Butler, Anne M., et al. United States Senate Election, Expulsion and Censure Cases, 1793–1990. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1995.

Dershowitz, Alan M. Supreme Injustice: How the High Court Hijacked Election 2000. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Sammon, Bill. At Any Cost: How Al Gore Tried to Steal the Election. Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2001.


See alsoBush v. Gore .

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