10 Elections Decided by One Vote (Or Less)
On Tuesday, December 19, 2017, Democrat Shelly Simonds won a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates by a single vote in a narrow-as-narrow-can-get victory. Though a court quickly tossed out Simonds's victory, and she eventually ended up conceding to her Republican opponent, it's not the only time an election came down to a single ballot. Though a one-vote win is rare, it has happened before. On more than one occasion. Here are 10 other elections where every vote really did count.
1. United States House of Representatives elections occur more frequently (every two years) with more seats (435 since 1911, with 437 between 1959 and 1962) than any other electable federal office in the country. So it only makes sense there would be more close House calls than those for President, where Bush squeezed by Gore in Florida by a certified count of 537 in 2000, or the U.S Senate, where a two-vote margin led to a revote in a 1974 New Hampshire election. But only one time in the 20th or 21st century has a single vote made the difference in roughly 18,000 House elections: a 1910 contest for Buffalo, New York’s congressional district, where Democrat Charles B. Smith snuck by incumbent De Alva S. Alexander by a single vote, 20,685 to 20,684 (although a later recount upped that winning margin slightly).
2. Oddly, the only modern instance of a United Kingdom parliamentary election being decided by a single vote also occurred in 1910, when Conservative Henry Duke eked out a victory against Liberal Harold St. Maur in the South West England city of Exeter. St. Maur, the challenger, originally won by a four-vote count, but following an electoral petition and a series of subsequent challenges, the incumbent Duke maintained his seat at the House of Commons table by the very slimmest of margins, 4777 to 4776.
3. In the case that’s most likely to have been name-checked by your Civics or Government teacher in high school, Democrat Marcus “Landslide” Morton (so nicknamed in a delicious case of 19th century irony) won the 1839 Massachusetts gubernatorial election by just one vote. Morton finished with 51,034 votes out of 102,066—or, just enough to receive a majority, and avoid sending the decision to a vote in the hostile, Whig-controlled state legislature, where he almost certainly would have lost. He lost a reelection bid in 1840 (Massachusetts gubernatorial elections were annual affairs back then), but regained the office in 1842 by a single vote in the state legislature after no candidate secured a majority vote in the general election.
4. In 2008, an Indian politician named C.P. Joshi lost by a single vote pursuing an assembly position in the North West Indian state of Rajasthan. In the final tally, Joshi fell to opponent Kalyan Singh Chouhan by a count of 62,216 to 62,215. Reportedly, Joshi’s wife, mother, and personal driver failed to show up on election day. Kalyan Singh Chouhan’s wife, on the other hand, allegedly cast votes at two different polling stations.
5. In the 1994 Wyoming’s House of Representatives race, Republican Randall Luthi and Independent Larry Call each finished with 1,941 votes. Following a recount that produced the same results, Governor Mike Sullivan settled the election in a most unconventional (although state-appropriate) fashion: drawing a ping pong ball out of his cowboy hat to determine a winner. Luthi’s name was drawn, and history may well have proven him the right man for the job: He served the Jackson Hole-area district until 2007, ultimately becoming Speaker of the House.
6. When you’re listing ties and one-vote wins, the title “Closest Election” is pretty much splitting hairs. Hairs that, really, can’t be split any further. But for a time, the Guinness World Records’ choice went to the African archipelago of Zanzibar’s general election of 1961. On the January 1961 polling day, the Afro-Shirazi Party took home 10 of 22 total seats in the Legislative Council to the runner-up Zanzibar Nationalist Party’s nine. The true kicker? The Afro-Shirazi Party won the district of Chake-Chake, and thus the most legislative seats, by a vote of 1538 to 1537. And just five months later, to end the deadlock, a new election was held. Both parties won 10 seats.
7. In 2013, a mayoral election in the Philippines province of Oriental Mindoro turned ugly after Nacionalista Party’s Salvador Py tied Liberal Party’s Marvic Feraren with equals counts of 3236. The election was ultimately decided by an agreed-upon game of chance—a series of coin tosses. After tying in the first round of coin flipping, Feraren eventually emerged the victor, but Py didn’t take the slim loss easily. According to an article in the Philippine Star, the candidate contested the results, arguing that it was unfair “a mere flip of a coin decided his fate,” particularly after he got rid of all his pigs to use them "as part of his campaign collateral.”
8. In what’s probably the strangest instance of a single vote making all the difference, a 2013 state legislature election in the Austrian state of Carinthia was decided by a ballot that featured a drawing of a penis. Each ballot had one column for ranking your choices, and the other column was for your vote. The voter made two markings: A drawing of a penis in the ranking column, and a check mark was in the choices column. It was decided that the ranking took precedence, and that penis-checked ballot ended up giving a legislative seat to the Green party, and preventing a tie with the Alliance for the Future of Austria party.
9. The National Assembly of Québec has a history of improbably close election calls. In 1994, the Saint-Jean provincial electoral district was evenly split 16,536 to 16,536 by Michel Charbonneau of the Liberal Party and Roger Paquin of Parti Québécois. In 2003, the Champlain electoral district was split evenly split 11,852 to 11,852 between the Liberal Party’s Pierre Brouillette and Parti Québécois’ Noëlla Champagne. Each of these cases called for a second vote several weeks later, and, in both cases, the Parti Québécois candidate won by a bit over 500 votes.
10. In Nevada, they still know how to settle ties the gentlemanly way: drawing playing cards, with the high card taking home the election spoils. In 2002, Republican Dee Honeycutt came up short, drawing a jack of diamonds to Democrat R.J. Gillum’s jack of spades for a seat on the Esmeralda County Commission. Card justice was again deployed in 2011, when Tanya Flanagan and Linda Meisenheimer tied in a North Las Vegas city council primary, and neither candidate wanted to pony up $600 for the cost of a recount. Meisenheimer ended up drawing a king to Flanagan’s five, but ended up losing the election. To which we say, $600 well-saved.
An earlier version of this article ran in 2014.