In 1876, Republican nominee Rutherford B. Hayes campaigned against the Democrat nominee Samuel J. Tilden. Tilden won the popular vote, and the candidates disputes the electoral college results (185 in favor of Tilden, 165 for Hayes and 20 disputes & uncounted votes from South Carolina, Louisiana, and you guessed it, Florida). Sound familiar (Bush/Gore 2000 anyone?). In such circumstances, the Constitution directs that the President of the Senate, with the Senate and House of Representatives present, will open the electoral certificates and count the votes.
Republicans claimed that this meant that the Senate President counted the votes alone with the rest of Congress acting as mere witnesses. Since the Senate President was a Republican, Democrats protested this conclusion. The Democrats wanted to only vote the contested votes by Congress, not the President. With the Democratic majority in the House, this meant they could through out just one votes and give Tilden the victory.
On January 29, 1877 Congress formed a Electoral Committee made up by five members from each house of Congress and the five members of the Supreme Court. This was meant to avoid the potential threat to the Constitution made arguing over its interpretation. The Commission
Why did the Commission sway in Hayes favor? The Compromise of 1877, the end of Reconstruction. While Tilden came from New York, his political party typically represented the Southern states, those who had lost the Civil War in 1865 and had felt repressed by Reconstruction in the intervening twelve years. In the House, the majority of Democrats came from Southern states and they wanted to end Reconstruction. (Reconstruction will have to be a topic for a post on another day). The Republicans, who had generally supported Reconstruction, offered to withdraw the federal troops from the South if the Democrats supported Hayes. Removing the troops essentially equated the end of Reconstruction, at least symbolically.