News Release

Lessons from Electoral History: Corrupt Deals and Supreme Court Subversion

ALAN HIRSCH, ahirsch@williams.edu
Hirsch is author of A Short History of Presidential Election Crises (And How to Prevent the Next One), published in March of this year.

He said today: “As the 2020 post-election crisis unfolds, we must learn from history — specifically the presidential election chaos in 1876 and 2000. In each of these three elections, the outcome came down to one or more disputed states. Most history books claim the 1876 election was resolved by a fifteen-man commission that voted along party lines. In truth, Democrats were prepared to ignore the commission’s determinations, and the threat of duel inaugurations and another civil war loomed ominously. The resolution came only when Republicans assured Democrats in Congress that, if they went along with Rutherford B. Hayes’s election, they would cease implementing Reconstruction. The nation paid a terrible price for the backroom dealing. In 2000, the election was resolved by the Supreme Court” with five right wing members “intervening to assure the election of George W. Bush.”

Hirsch continued: “Today, both of these threats are present — political deal-making and/or a partisan Supreme Court could determine the outcome. There are additional parallels to 1876 and 2000 that need to be explored. In both 1876 and 2000, as in 2020, the election took place against the backdrop of voter suppression. In 1876 and 2000, like today, there were calls for state legislatures to intervene and nullify the results of their state’s popular vote. In 1876, states sent competing slates of electors that Congress had to choose between. Today, the possibility of competing slates of electors cannot be ruled out. Ditto the threat of the conservatives on the Supreme Court intervening.

“To prevent these destructive outcomes, we need to understand how things unfolded during the prior election crises.”

Hirsch is an instructor in the humanities and chair of the Justice and Law Studies program at Williams College, and received a J.D. from Yale Law School and B.A. from Amherst College. His work has appeared in the Washington PostLos Angeles TimesWashington TimesNewsday, and the Village Voice. Hirsch also serves as a trial consultant and expert witness on interrogations and criminal confessions, testifying around the nation. He lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts.