Monday, December 5, 2016

Every Vote Counted

Annamaria on Monday*
*Inspired once again by the ever fabulous RadioLab

Since the USA is in the grip of recounting the last presidential election ballots, I figured we should look into how important is each vote.

Every singe vote counts, right?

Well, if you research elections won by one vote, you are likely to get this list:

               In 1645, one vote gave Oliver Cromwell control of England.
            In 1649, one vote caused Charles I of England to be executed.
            In 1776, one vote gave America the English language instead of German.
            In 1845, one vote brought Texas into the Union.
            In 1875, one vote changed France from a monarchy to a republic.
            In 1923, one vote gave Adolf Hitler leadership of the Nazi Party.
             In 1941, one vote saved Selective Service - just weeks before Pearl Harbor was attacked

Amazing, huh?  Except that every item on it is totally wrong!  None of these is at all correct.  In fact, in that 1923 election, only one person voted against Hitler.  The other five hundred and some party members all voted for the badest man in history.

The only conclusion any researchers have come to on this subject is that the odds of any election being decided by one vote are pretty close to nil.  In terms of a US presidential election, the odds of the outcome being decided by a single vote is 1 in 10 million.

Despite the unlikely odds, the right to vote is prized, as it should be.  Ask anyone who lives in a country where the right does not exist.  Democracies, if they are true to the rights of their citizens, hold the process of voting to be sacred in the civic sense.

Take India, the largest democracy in the world, for example.  It has 800 million voters.  Yet India runs its elections on the principle that no one in the country should be more than two kilometers (e.g. within walking distance) of the nearest polling place.

This applies even to a hermit priest, the only permanent resident living deep in the Gir Forest.   For every election, a team braves wild lions to bring in equipment and set up a poling place so this guy can cast his ballot.


If you don’t believe this, you can watch one of several YouTube videos on the subject here.

In a study of 16,577 US elections, two researchers found only one that was decided by one vote.  This took place in 1910 in the 36th Congressional District of New York, an entity that has since been gerrymandered out of existence.  But 106 years ago, the Democrat Charles B. Smith won by 20,685 votes while his opponent garnered only 20, 684.   Looking deeper into US history, I found eight local elections won by one vote.  Recounts found a few of them won by wider margins—two or three votes instead of one.  In one case the recount proved that the vote was a tie!

Charles B. Smith, D, NY

In actuality, of course, in any election, everybody’s vote counts.  If any two of Charlie B. Smith’s constituents had decided it was not worth going out to vote and stayed home, Charlie would have lost.  One's candidate winning depends on her or his supporters going to the polls.  If too many stay home, their candidate loses the whole shebang.

For us in the US, one frustrating thing about presidential elections is the existence of the Electoral College, which results in candidates having to battle state by state.  Until this year, only four times in history has the Electoral College vote disagreed with the overall popular vote: 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000.  The last of these is one that I and many of my fellow citizens still dispute.  It was the Supreme Court, not the people, that had the final say.

As of now Hillary Clinton is ahead in the popular vote by more than 2.5 million.  It does not seem right that PrezOrange is taking office.

So why do we have an Electoral College?  Strange to say these days, the framers of our Constitution interposed it between the presidency and the popular vote because they feared an angry or ignorant citizenry would elect a tyrant instead of a statesman.   Also, when trying to get Thirteen Original Colonies united into a nation,  they needed to give the smaller, less populous states a break so they wouldn’t balk.

Lately, there has arisen a plausible effort to settle elections in a way that the Electoral College and popular vote would never again disagree.  Changing the US Constitution through amendment seems out of reach.  But there is another way to the same end.  It is called the National PopularVote Interstate Compact.  Right now 48 of our 50 states award all their electoral votes to the winner within the state.  This effort seeks to get states to change this rule and award all their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the nation-wide popular vote.  As soon as enough states (totaling 270 electoral votes) adopt this rule, never again will there be a discrepancy between the two.  Simple and clean!

As of now, the following states have already adopted it: California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia. They comprise 165 electoral votes.  (The yellow states have legislation pending.  I hope they don't chicken out.)   As for me, I hope this change happens.  


  1. Choir. Preaching. Thanks, AmA. We need more democracy, not less.

    1. I know that we agree, EvKa. Your state has not joined the pact. Perhaps you would like to nudge your state legislators along?

    2. I noticed that. I'll grab my pitchfork and head for the capitol today.

  2. When I lived in South Australia in the sixties, we had a government decided by one vote. Each party had an equal number of seats with one seat undecided. That seat was eventually won by the government - after multiple recounts - by one vote. The premier did the right thing, asked his candidate to stand down, and declared a byelection. He was rewarded for his fairness by losing the election and government by about 100 votes. Don't hold your breath about anything like that happening these days.

    1. Michael, it seems to me that we go through cycles of progress and backlash. The sixties were full steam ahead. These days a large cohort of the global body politic seems to be backpedalling with all its might.

  3. Having listened to some folk who voted for independence ( can't count), Brexit ( racist and can't count) and then Trump (err I have no answers for that one????), I think the concept of democracy is wasted on some people. I hope the USA finds an answer to the problem, painlessly.

    1. Caro, thank you for your good wishes for me and my fellow citizens of the USofA. I fear, thought, that for me and most of my friends, we are way past the our threshold for pain when it comes to our present political situation. And a very high percentage of those hopeful PrezOrange supporters, I fear, will find life excruciating when the truth comes out that they were duped into thinking his presidency will bring them any measure at all of prosperity. Painful times all around I think, except for billionaires. OY!

  4. Sis, I agree a single vote alone rarely counts, that's why I vote as many times as possible.

  5. Just encountered this article that I think you'll find VERY interesting, regarding how Electors to the College are elected, and the theory that the current system is unconstitutional:

  6. I see Clinton now has roughly 2.5 million more votes than Trump - roughly a 2% lead. So much for all the "wrong" polls that predicted she'd win by about 2%...

    1. It's up to 2.7 million now. She is on pace to top Obama's vote totals in 2014.

      The whole thing is both a farce and a tragedy.

    2. Michael and Lisa, it's that pesky Electoral College that made the difference. It screws up the will of the majority. For instance, Montana gets 3 electoral votes. California gets 55, 18 times as many. But California has 35 times the population. We have to get rid of that skew. We really do.

    3. I know. As a Californian I am beyond sick and tired of our lack of representation in the national decision-making process. Something will come to me...taxation without representation...

    4. Er, and my earlier post should have read: "Obama's vote totals in 2012" not 2014