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U.S. presidential election, 2004

The U.S. presidential election of 2004 took place on Election Day, Tuesday, November 2. The Republican candidate, President George W. Bush, won re-election over his Democratic rival, Senator John Kerry. Bush was inaugurated to a second four-year term on Thursday, January 20, 2005.



Among the features of the results (based on the available uncertified vote totals as of November 9, 2004) were the following:

  • George W. Bush became the first candidate since his father—George H. W. Bush, in winning election in 1988—to receive a majority of the popular vote (that is, over 50% of it); it also marked the seventh consecutive election in which the Democratic nominee failed to reach that threshold.
  • At least 12 million more votes were cast than in the 2000 election. The record turnout—the highest since 1968—was attributed partly to the intensity of the division between the candidates and partly to intensive voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts by both major parties and their allies.
  • The large turnout enabled each major-party candidate to set a record. Bush received the largest number of votes of any Presidential candidate in U.S. history. Kerry, however, also received more votes than any candidate in any previous U.S. election, though not as many as Bush in this election.
  • Bush won with the smallest margin of victory for a sitting president in U.S. history in terms of the percentage of the popular vote. (Bush received 2.5% more than Kerry; the closest previous margin won by a sitting President was 3.2% for Woodrow Wilson in 1916.) In terms of absolute number of popular votes, his victory margin (approximately 3 million votes) was the smallest of any sitting President since Harry S. Truman in 1948. Furthermore, more votes were cast for candidates other than the winner than in any previous U.S. presidential election.
  • The counties where Bush led in the popular vote amount to 83% of the geographic area of the U.S. (excluding Alaska, which did not report results by county, but had all districts but one of the two in Juneau vote for Bush).
  • Only three states picked a winner from a different party than they had in 2000. Bush took Iowa and New Mexico (combined 12 electoral votes), both won by Democrat Al Gore in 2000, while Kerry took New Hampshire (4 electoral votes), which Bush had won.
  • As in 2000, electoral votes split along sharp geographical lines: The west coast, northeast, and most of the Great Lakes region for Kerry, and the southeast, Great Plains, and Mountain states for Bush.
  • Minor-party candidates received many fewer votes, dropping from a total of 3.5 per cent in 2000 to approximately one percent. As in 2000, Ralph Nader finished in third place, but his total declined from 2.9 million to 400,000, leaving him with fewer votes than the Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan had received in finishing fourth in 2000. The combined minor-party total was the lowest since 1988.
  • The election marked the first time an incumbent president was re-elected while his political party increased its numbers in both houses of Congress since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1936 election. It was the first time for a Republican since William McKinley in the 1900 election.

The entire House of Representatives (435 members) and approximately one-third of the Senate (34 of 100 members) were also up for election. The Republican Party increased its majorities in both houses of Congress. (See the U.S. House election, 2004 and the U.S. Senate election, 2004 for more information.)

Election results

The members of the Electoral College formally voted on December 13, 2004. On January 6, 2005, when Congress met for the official counting of the electoral votes, Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Senator Barbara Boxer made an official objection to the counting of Ohio's electoral votes. As a result, the House and Senate separately debated the inclusion of Ohio's votes. Within four hours of the objection, however, the last effective challenge to the election results ended, when the Senate voted 74–1 and the House voted 267–31 to reject the challenge to Ohio's votes. The counting process is detailed in the United States Code (specifically 3 USC §§ 15, 16, 17, and 18).

In the final accepted count, Bush received 286 electoral votes, and Kerry received 251. One vote went to Kerry's running mate, John Edwards, when one of the electors pledged to Kerry voted for Edwards instead. For Vice President, 286 votes went to Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney, and 252 to Edwards.

Even if Congress had voted to reject Ohio's 20 electoral votes, the outcome would have been the same. With 518 valid votes cast (instead of 538), the majority necessary for election by the Electoral College under the Twelfth Amendment would have been 260 votes, which Bush and Cheney, each with 266, would have reached. If Ohio's votes had been deemed to have been cast, but not counted, so that no candidate had a majority, Bush and Cheney would have certainly been chosen by the House and Senate, respectively, under the Twelfth Amendment's procedures.

|- | Ralph Nader | Independent, Reform | Connecticut | style="text-align:right;" | 463,647 | style="text-align:right;" | 0.38% | style="text-align:right;" | 0 | Peter Miguel Camejo | California | style="text-align:right;" | 0

|- | Michael Badnarik | Libertarian | Texas | style="text-align:right;" | 397,231 | style="text-align:right;" | 0.32% | style="text-align:right;" | 0 | Richard Campagna | Iowa | style="text-align:right;" | 0

|- | Michael Peroutka | Constitution | Maryland | style="text-align:right;" | 144,489 | style="text-align:right;" | 0.12% | style="text-align:right;" | 0 | Chuck Baldwin | Florida | style="text-align:right;" | 0

|- | David Cobb | Green | California | style="text-align:right;" | 119,859 | style="text-align:right;" | 0.10% | style="text-align:right;" | 0 | Patricia LaMarche | Maine | style="text-align:right;" | 0 (a) Popular vote counts are from David Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections as of April 10, 2005. This data is not expected to change. Popular vote percentages and the total popular vote are calculated from the popular vote counts.
(b) See "Faithless elector in Minnesota" below.

See also U.S. presidential election, 2004 (detail). For members of the 2004 United States Electoral College, see United States presidential electors, 2004.

Ballot access

Presidential Ticket Party Ballot Access
Bush / Cheney Republican 50+DC
Kerry / Edwards Democrat 50+DC
Nader / Camejo Independent, Reform 34+DC
Badnarik / Campagna Libertarian 48+DC
Peroutka / Baldwin Constitution 36
Cobb / LaMarche Green 27+DC

"Faithless elector" in Minnesota

One elector in Minnesota cast a ballot for president with the name of "John Ewards" (sic) written on it. The Electoral College officials certified this ballot as a vote for John Edwards for president. The remaining nine electors cast ballots for John Kerry. All ten electors in the state cast ballots for John Edwards for Vice President. (John Edwards' name was spelled correctly on all ballots for Vice President.) This was the first time in U.S. history that an elector had voted for the same person for both President and Vice President.

Electoral balloting in Minnesota was performed by secret ballot, and none of the electors admitted to casting the Edwards vote for President, so it may never be known who was the "faithless elector". It is not even known whether the vote for Edwards was deliberate or unintentional, although the Republican Secretary of State and several of the Democratic electors have expressed the opinion that this was an accident.

Electoral vote error in New York

New York's initial electoral vote certificate indicated that all of its 31 electoral votes for president were cast for "John L. Kerry of Massachusetts" instead of John F. Kerry, who won the popular vote in the state. This appears to have been a typographical error, and an amended electoral vote certificate with the correct middle initial was transmitted to the President of the Senate prior to the official electoral vote count.

Presidential/Vice Presidential candidates

There were six candidates who were on the ballot in states with enough electoral votes to have a theoretical chance of winning a majority in the Electoral College. For other candidates, see List of candidates in the U.S. presidential election, 2004.

George W. Bush/Richard B. Cheney, Republican Party

On March 10, Bush officially clinched the number of delegates needed to be nominated at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. Bush accepted the nomination on September 2, 2004 and selected Vice President Cheney as his running mate. Bush faced only token opposition in Republican primaries. The Bush/Cheney ticket appeared on the ballot in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia. (In New York, the ticket was also on the ballot as candidates of the Conservative Party of New York State.) See also George W. Bush presidential campaign, 2004 and U.S. Republican Party presidential nomination, 2004.

John F. Kerry/John R. Edwards, Democratic Party

On March 11, after meetings with Democratic superdelegates in Washington, D.C. and former primary election opponents, Massachusetts Senator Kerry accumulated the 2,162 delegates required to clinch the nomination. The Democratic National Committee's website acknowledged him as the party's nominee at that time, almost three months prior to the party convention. Had something happened to Kerry before the election, the DNC would likely have been the main body involved in choosing an alternate nominee—most likely Kerry's running mate, U.S. Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, announced on July 6. Senators Kerry and Edwards were formally nominated by the Democratic Party at the July 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts. The Kerry/Edwards ticket was on the ballot in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia. In New York, the ticket was also on the ballot as candidates of the Working Families Party. See also the John Kerry presidential campaign, 2004 and U.S. Democratic Party presidential nomination, 2004.

Ralph Nader/Peter Camejo, independent (also Reform Party)

Nader, although initially running as an independent, was listed in several states as the Reform Party candidate, the Populist Party candidate, the Better Life Party candidate, or the PEC candidate. In other states he was not a candidate because he did not meet the requirements in those states for ballot access. He was endorsed by the Reform Party; however, the Reform Party had earlier split into multiple parties, and in many states what used to be the Reform Party is now the America First Party, which did not endorse Nader.

Nader was on the ballot in 34 states plus DC.

On September 18, 2004, the Florida Supreme Court ordered that Nader be included on the ballot in Florida for the election. The court rejected arguments that the Reform Party did not meet the requirements of the Florida election code for access to the ballot — that the party must be a "national party" and that it must have nominated its candidate in a "national convention" — and therefore Nader should have attempted to file as an independent candidate. Specifically, the court ruled that the term "national party" must be interpreted as broadly as possible. Florida is a swing state that was the subject of much controversy in the previous election.

Michael Badnarik/Richard Campagna, Libertarian Party

Badnarik was nominated by delegates to the Libertarian Party National Convention on May 30, 2004 in Atlanta, Georgia. In the closest presidential race in Libertarian Party history, Badnarik beat Talk radio host Gary Nolan and Emmy and Tony award-winning producer Aaron Russo on the third ballot. The three candidates were separated by only a handful of votes on the first two ballots. The candidates debated each other at various state Libertarian Party conventions leading up to the national convention. The debate held at the Libertarian Party of California convention (this year March 12-14 in San Jose) was aired by C-SPAN and PBS. State parties often conduct non-binding straw polls following their debate and may then vote to endorse a candidate. However, as is normal practice, delegates to the national convention voted freely for the candidate of their choice. The Badnarik/Campagna ticket was on the ballot in 48 states and the District of Columbia, the largest number of states and number of electoral votes for any third party. The Libertarian Party failed to gain ballot access in New Hampshire and Oklahoma. See also U.S. Libertarian Party presidential nomination, 2004.

Michael Peroutka/Chuck Baldwin, Constitution Party

The Constitution Party nominated Peroutka for President on June 25, 2004 and Baldwin for Vice President on the 26th. Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, a possible Constitution Party presidential nominee, did not attend the convention. The Peroutka/Baldwin ticket was on the ballot in 36 states.

David Cobb/Pat LaMarche, Green Party

Cobb was chosen as the Presidential candidate of the Green Party on the second ballot at the Green National Convention on June 25, 2004; LaMarche was nominated as the party's Vice Presidential candidate. It is notable that Nader was seeking the endorsement of the Green Party for his presidential run, but the membership decided to nominate Cobb as the Green Party presidential candidate, in part due to an eagerness among Greens to distance the party from the "spoiler" label. The Cobb/LaMarche ticket was on the ballot in 27 states, plus the District of Columbia.


See U.S. presidential election, 2004 timeline


See U.S. presidential election debates, 2004

Three presidential debates were organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates:

  1. September 30 at the University of Miami, with questions from moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS. Topics were foreign policy and homeland security.
  2. October 8 at Washington University in St. Louis, in a town-hall format moderated by Charles Gibson of ABC.
  3. October 13 at Arizona State University, with questions from moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS. Topics were domestic and economic policy.

One vice-presidential debate was held:

Newspaper endorsements

The online edition of [1]. In September 2004 The OSCE issued a report (PDF 168K) on US electoral processes.[2][3]

Earlier, some 13 US Representatives from the Democratic Party had sent a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan asking for the UN to monitor the elections. The UN responded that such a request could only come from the official national executive. The move was met by considerable opposition from Republican lawmakers [4]. The OSCE is not affiliated with the United Nations.

International observers faced a number of hurdles. Because US electoral law is largely state law, individual US states could refuse to allow them to observe the elections on various grounds; for instance, a state law may require observers to be registered voters from the area [5].

Electronic voting

Some states rushed to have new electronic voting systems operational for the 2004 election. Many security analysts warned that computer voting terminals had a significant possibility of voter fraud or data corruption by a software attack. Others said that recounts would be nearly impossible with the machines and criticised the lack of a "paper trail", which is included in many other trivial events such as grocery shopping or using an ATM. Machines which do not use a paper trail are called Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) systems. One of the largest manufacturers of DRE voting systems is Diebold, also a manufacturer of ATMs. Author Bev Harris, in her book Black Box Voting, describes in detail the problems created by DRE systems.

Proponents of computer voting say that the intent of the voter can be recorded with greater certainty and accuracy than using paper ballots.

Better World Links on Electronic Voting

Campaign law changes

The 2004 election was the first to be affected by the campaign finance reforms mandated by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (also known as the McCain-Feingold Bill for its sponsors in the United States Senate). Because of the Act's restrictions on candidates' and parties' fundraising, a large number of so-called 527 groups emerged. Named for a section of the Internal Revenue Code , these groups were able to raise large amounts of money for various political causes as long as they do not coordinate their activities with political campaigns. Examples of 527s include Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,, The Media Fund, and America Coming Together. Many such groups were active throughout the campaign season. (There was some similar activity, although on a much lesser scale, during the 2000 campaign.)

To distinguish official campaigning from independent campaigning, political advertisements on television were required to include a verbal disclaimer identifying the organization responsible for the advertisement. Advertisements produced by political campaigns usually included the statement "I'm [candidate's name], and I approve this message." Advertisements produced by independent organizations usually included the statement "[Organization name] is responsible for the content of this advertisement" and, from September 3 (60 days before the general election), such organizations' ads were prohibited from mentioning any candidate by name. Previously, television advertisements only required a written "paid for by" disclaimer on the screen.

This law was not well known or widely publicized at the beginning of the Democratic primary season, which led to some early misperception of Howard Dean, who was the first candidate to buy television advertising in this election cycle. Not realizing that the law required the phrasing, some people viewing the ads reportedly questioned why Dean might say such a thing—such questions were easier to ask because of the maverick nature of Dean's campaign in general.

Colorado's Amendment 36

Main article: Colorado Amendment 36

A ballot initiative in Colorado, known as Amendment 36, would have changed the way in which the state apportions its electoral votes. Rather than assigning all 9 of the state's electors to the candidate with a plurality of popular votes, under the amendment Colorado would have assigned presidential electors proportionally to the statewide vote count, which would be a unique system (Nebraska and Maine assign electoral votes based on vote totals within each congressional district). The amendment ultimately failed, receiving only 34% of the vote.

Legal challenges

Election watchers and political analysts forecast a number of contested election results in a manner similar to the Florida voting recount of 2000. Various states grappled with their own legal issues that could have affected the outcome of the vote, while both of the major political parties and a number of independent groups like the ACLU marshalled numbers of lawyers.

In several states including Ohio, Colorado, Florida, and Nevada, there were lawsuits or other disputes about such issues as "voter challenging," voter registration, and absentee ballots. These were considered unlikely to change the Electoral College result. In Florida, for example, multiple lawsuits were filed even before the election, but few observers expected any of them to change the official result that Bush had outpolled Kerry by roughly 400,000 votes. As of the morning of November 3rd, the deciding state in the electoral vote count was Ohio, where Bush held a 136,000 vote lead. Democrats' hopes rested on the approximately 135,000 provisional ballots that had yet to be counted. Nevertheless, after concluding that a recount would not change the election results, Kerry conceded defeat at about 11:00 EST that morning, and George W. Bush declared victory the afternoon of the same day.

Two of the third-party candidates, Badnarik and Cobb, cooperated in requesting a recount of the Ohio vote (although Cobb led the effort). After announcing their intention and soliciting donations, they quickly raised $150,000 to cover the state's required fee and other costs. A statewide recount of the presidential vote was completed; however, some observers claim that the recount was conducted improperly, and illegally, and have filed a new lawsuit, which is currently pending. The Congressional Democrats who objected to the counting of Ohio's electoral votes relied on part on information about voting irregularities provided by observers working for the Cobb campaign.

Election controversy

Main articles: 2004 U.S. election voting controversies (summary); 2004 U.S. presidential election controversy and irregularities (detail).

After the election, some sources reported indications of possible data irregularities and systematic flaws during the voting process, which are covered in detail by the election controversy articles. Although the overall result of the election were not challenged by the Kerry campaign, third-party presidential candidates David Cobb and Michael Badnarik obtained a recount in Ohio. This recount was completed December 28, 2004, amid allegations of illegal recount procedures in many counties. Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee, and other political organizations, are investigating further. No comprehensive independently reviewed analyses have yet been publically released, but the People for the American Way Foundation produced a preliminary report on vote suppresion in the election (pdf) and the House Judiciary Committee Democrats released a 100-page status report (pdf) on irregularities and potential illegal conduct in Ohio.

One part of the controversy relates to electronic and optical-scan voting machines, which were used in greater numbers than before due to concerns over the reliability of manual machines raised during the 2000 election. Other reported problems relate to abnormally high voter turnout (more votes in many precincts than registered voters in said precincts), discrepancies between exit poll data and actual results especially in swing states, and the complications which arose due to machine shortages, particularly in highly-democratic areas and in closely contested states.

In the January 6 House of Representatives vote at the official counting of the electoral votes, the motion to reject Ohio's electoral votes was supported by 31 Democrats. It was opposed by 178 Republicans, 88 Democrats and one independent. Not voting were 52 Republicans and 80 Democrats. [6] Four people elected to the House had not yet taken office, and one seat was vacant. When the Senate rejected a similar motion, it was supported only by its maker, Senator Boxer, with 74 Senators opposed and 25 not voting. During the debate, not one Senator, either Democrat or Republican, argued that the outcome of the election should be changed by either court challenge or re-vote.

See also

External links and references

Official candidate websites (alphabetical, by last name)

Official party websites (alphabetical, by political party)

Election video archive

Election 2004 link directories

State-by-state forecasts of electoral vote outcome

Analysis of the election

Minnesota electoral voting snafu

Election 2004 global debate and voting

Election 2004 protests

Election 2004 news media

News articles

Election campaign funding


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