By Elizabeth Darst
Updated March 11, 2002 11:00 AM

In an election that nearly rivals the 2000 presidential fiasco, former “Little House” star Melissa Gilbert, 37, emerged victorious on Saturday as the new president of the Screen Actors Guild, the union that represents most TV and film performers, the Associated Press reports. Gilbert beat Valerie Harper, 61, former star of “Rhoda,” in an election fraught with bitterness and contention, mirroring the rancor within the union. Gilbert won in the original election in November, but by a smaller margin, amid disagreements over voting procedures and charges of voter fraud (sound familiar?). Actors including Danny Glover and Morgan Fairchild started an e-mail campaign concerning the dispute, and members of the already fractured union took sides. In yesterday’s final tally, Gilbert received 57 percent of the union’s votes to Harper’s 34 percent. “I’m very upset we had to go through this again,” Gilbert told the Los Angeles Times after learning of the results. “But the silver lining is that so many members voted in this election.” The actress, who will serve a two-year term, made her first appearance as president on Sunday night’s broadcast of the SAG awards, and received warm applause from the roomful of actors.