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A Long Night

If you think election night is going to be long this year, think about the election of 1800, which pitted the incumbent President John Adams against Vice President Thomas Jefferson. The states all voted at different times, so the first ballots were cast in April and the last ones were cast in October.

Back then, each elector cast two votes, the candidate with the most votes became president, and the runner up became vice president. This was the first election with well-defined political parties, and the parties wanted their chosen candidates to be POTUS and VP, so they arranged for one elector of each party to vote for a third-party candidate instead of the VP nominee, so the VP would get one vote less than the presidential nominee. The Democratic-Republicans messed this process up, so Thomas Jefferson ended up with an electoral college tie with his running mate, Aaron Burr.

This led to a runoff in the House of Representatives, which was controlled by the Federalists. The Federalists hated Jefferson, so they tried to make Burr president, but enough Federalists voted for Jefferson that he got exactly 50% of the vote. Jefferson needed 50% plus one in order to win, so they did the vote again, and he got 50% again. And the process repeated itself, again, and again, and again, and again, for an entire week. Finally, on the 36th ballot, Jefferson passed the threshold and was elected president.

All told, there were people who started voting in April of 1800, and the president wasn't chosen until February of 1801. And then news of Jefferson's election had to be conveyed throughout the country on horseback.

So as long as next week feels, remember that it could be a whole lot worse.

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