The partisan warfare over Indiana's contested congressional seat has reached a level that both sides call extraordinary. But the situation is hardly novel.
From Indiana to New Hampshire, from the 1830s to the present, Congress has stepped in to decide hair's-breadth or disputed elections, and more often than not has prompted the losing party to make accusations of strong-arming.
As House leaders deadlocked yesterday over how to deal with the 8th District Indiana seat -- Democrat Frank McCloskey was declared the winner by four votes by a Democratic-dominated House task force -- several longtime observers remarked that the current controversy is distinct only for its decibel level.
In 1960, a different Indiana congressional district produced a prototype of today's contest. That year, Rep. J. Edward Roush (D) lost his reelection bid by 12 votes to George O. Chambers (R). An initial House recount gave Roush the victory by two votes. A months-long follow-up, including the dispatch of General Accounting Office auditors to Indiana, gave it to Roush by 99 votes.
Then, as now, Indiana sat out the dispute with one congressman too few, giving rise to the joke in Roush's district: "Hoosier congressman?"
The Constitution gives the House and Senate final authority over the election of their members, and history shows that both chambers have used this power broadly. In numerous cases, they have overruled local authorities -- throwing out some ballots, validating others -- in the name of working the voters' will.
Normally, candidates bring the disputes to the House or Senate, but in McCloskey's case, as in Roush's and others, the House leadership took the initial step. McCloskey led Republican Richard D. McIntyre by 72 votes on election night, but then lost two state-supervised recounts.
The second recount was incomplete when the House went into session in January, so the House Administration Committee initiated a full-scale recount of its own, complete with government auditors.
The controversy now centers on the three-member House task force's decision to count certain disputed, unnotarized ballots, but not others. Invoking that decision, the panel -- two Democrats and one Republican -- last week ruled McCloskey the winner by four votes.
In the Roush case also, the question centered on the ballots' validity. Then, as now, the House overrode rulings by local authorities, who had thrown out ballots not marked with a blue pencil and others that did not bear the signatures of two county clerks. The House counted them.
The House added 874 votes to the race, with an outcome of 107,357 for Roush and 107,258 for Chambers -- a 99-vote margin. Roush then took his seat.
Another parallel to the current situation occurred in New Hampshire in 1974. Democrat John A. Durkin was declared the loser of a U.S. Senate race by more than 300 votes on election night, emerged the winner by 10 votes in a state recount, and then was declared the loser by two in another state-supervised recount.
The Senate Rules Committee, then led by Sen. Howard W. Cannon (D-Nev.), eventually commandeered 30,000 disputed ballots and had them brought to the Capitol in an armored car. The panel split evenly over whether to validate 24 of the ballots -- with the election hanging in the balance.
The 24 ballots were sent to the Senate floor, where they became the subject of a 30-day debate and six cloture votes -- more than any other legislation until then, including the civil-rights measures.
The Senate vacated the seat and declared a special election. Durkin won with 54 percent of the vote, and was seated on Sept. 18, 1975, about eight months after the rest of the Senate.
No one is around to recall firsthand what appears to have been the most disputed congressional race ever -- the 1838 New Jersey contest for five House seats, the outcome of which was to determine whether the House leadership would be Whig or Democratic.
After two weeks of disarray, the House rejected both groups of contestants, and the House Democrats took charge. A special Committee on Elections was appointed. Then, too, the main issue was whether to count certain ballots disqualified by local authorities.
The excluded ballots were in largely Democratic areas (New Jersey's delegation at that time was elected at large), and the committee ruled them valid. The House voted to go along, and when the recount was completed, the Democrats had a clean sweep and a majority in the House.
The McCloskey-McIntyre race apparently is the closest House recount this century, but in the early days of congressional elections, districts were so small that ties were not unheard of. Such was the case in Maryland in 1820, when Philip Reed and Jeremiah Cosden split the vote exactly.
Reed petitioned the House to seat him, based on evidence that two ballots marked in his favor were "deceitfully folded together" and disqualified. But the House was as divided as the district, stalemating 74 to 74. Speaker P.P. Barbour broke the tie in Reed's favor, and he took office.