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Election history: Current presidential contest not unprecedented

BERKELEY, California (CNN) -- The Florida standoff is unusual in presidential elections, but not unprecedented.

Looking back, the presidential election was something of a mess: "There was electoral confusion. For instance, in Los Angeles, there were more votes than ballots distributed. In New Hampshire, they switched the votes for the candidates," said Terri Bimes, a University of California at Berkeley professor who teaches a course on the American presidency.

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But Bimes is not talking about campaign 2000, but of the presidential election of 1916 between President Woodrow Wilson, the Democrat, and Republican challenger Charles Evans Hughes.

There were allegations of election fraud, claims that ballots were tossed out -- because it appeared some voters had cast their ballots twice -- and demands for a recount.

The race had come down to California's 13 electoral votes, and ultimately to the relatively few votes of northern California's rural communities like one small hamlet in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The area is now known as Wilsonia -- and for very good reason.

"The surprise in California was of course shaped by mother nature's lack of cooperation. It snowed," said San Francisco State University Professor Bill Issel.

With most of the state's ballots tallied, Hughes held a slim lead over Wilson. It was another day before horse-drawn wagons battling snow and rough terrain could deliver their ballot boxes, and ultimately the election, to President Wilson.

"So the people in this area say, and have always said, since 1916, that they were the ones who swung the election for Wilson, and in his honor, they named this area Wilsonia," explained Fred Vreeman of Kings Canyon Park Service Company.

This year's election, with its parallels to that of 1916, turns out to be very exciting for the students in Bime's class on the American presidency.

"They're charged," Bimes said of his students. "Lots of excitement. Lots of questions. It's really bad for the country, but good for the course," he said with a laugh.


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Tuesday, November 14, 2000

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