Why Your Vote Often DOES Count!

Here are a lot of elections determined by a 51-49 or closer margin. You could well have voted in one of these... Or sat it out and failed to make a difference! Some other elections decided more widely than 51-49 but with turnout so low that the losing side could have won are also mentioned!

U.S. Presidential Elections - not just 2000!
U.S. Congressional Elections! Some decided by less than 100 votes, with a 2020 one officially by 6 votes! (Update 12/30/2020)
U.S. Senate Elections! UPDATE 12/4/2006 - .3% of VA voters give Democrats a majority of US Senate!
UPDATE 9/19/2020 on a closer Senate race in 2016.
Mayor Elections!
State Legislature Elections! BIG UPDATE 12/4/2006 - 23 Chester County voters give Democrats a majority of PA's House of Representatives!
Gay Rights Referendum Elections!


UPDATE 11/2/2004 on the 2000 election - As the news mentionined a lot, the 2000 Bush-Gore contest was hinged on Florida. Florida's 24 electoral votes were decided by a vote count of officially 537 votes in favor of Bush out of a Florida total of about 6 million.

Court cases decided the election. A mere extra few thousand votes one way or another in Florida would have pulled a concession speech by one of the contenders within a few days as opposed to the court-decided mess. Not affecting the overall outcome *this time* are the results of four other states:

New Mexico - A mere roughly 366 votes in favor of Gore after recounting and double-checking. 4 electoral votes out of 538 get determined by a margin comparable to the population of one largish apartment building!

Wisconsin - 5,708 votes in favor of Gore.

Iowa - 4,144 votes in favor of Gore.

Oregon - 6,765 votes in favor of Gore.

Note that this is not unique even in modern USA history. In 1960, JFK won the total USA popular vote over Nixon by a margin of merely 118,000 votes, about 50.1 vs. 49.9!

In 1980 in Massechussets, Reagan beat Carter by only 6,000 votes. Full turnout in just one neighborhood could have changed Reagan's margin of victory and his claims of nationwide mandate.

Congressional Elections

UPDATE 12/30/2020 - The Congress seat for Iowa's 2nd Congressional District was certified by Iowa's state canvass board on 12/2/2020 to have been won by 6 votes by Marianette Miller-Meeks (Republican), over Rita Hart (Democrat). Rita Hart has placed a challenge to these results in the House of Representatives on the basis of how 22 votes were counted.

UPDATE 11/24/2000 - a Congress seat in New Jersey was decided on a narrow margin confirmed by a recount. I think the margin of victory was just one or two hundred votes. And a U.S. House seat can make a difference when the Houses of Congress are nearly evenly divided while the U.S. President is decided by an election so close that court cases are determining how to count votes.

In 1982 in one congressional district of Indiana, Democrat McClosky and Republican McIntyre just about had a tie. This race was eventually settled in the U.S. House of Representatives in favor of McClosky on a party line vote. A mere 50 to 100 votes one way or another could have made victory obvious enough to not have to be decided by the House.

In 1994, Republicans had a major takeover of the House. About half the Republicans' margin of majority in the House was from elections decided by a 51-49 margin. In 1996, the Republican's margin of majority was cut in half, largely in races decided on a 51-49 margin.

Just remember that a major tax bill, mentioned by some as "the largest tax increase in U.S. history", passed the House by only one vote in 1993.

UPDATE 3/14/2018: In a special election in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional district, the Democrat, Connor Lamb, was 641 votes or .3% ahead of the Republican with 100% of precincts fully reporting, although this does not include absentee or provisional ballots.

U.S. Senate Races

UPDATE 9/19/2020 - the 2016 Senate race in New Hampshire was decided by .14% of the vote in favor of Democrat Maggie Hassan over Republican Kelly Ayotte. If Ayotte won, "Obamacare" would have been repealed.

BIG UPDATE 12/4/2006 - .3% of Virginia's voters give Democrats a majority of the US Senate!

In 2006, a Virginia senate race had Democrat James H. Webb defeating incumbent Republican George Allen by a margin that was .3% (50.15 to 49.85) as of the time Allen conceded.
http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2006/pages/results/states/VA/S/01/index.html reports a vote count that breaks down to the same 50.15%-49.85% margin among the votes for these two candidates. The vote count was 1,172,671 to 1,165,440, with a difference of 7,231 votes.
The U.S. Senate is having Democrats achieving a 51-49 majority as a result of the 2006 elections.

In 2002, South dakota decided a U.S. Senate seat by only a few hundred votes, in favor of Democrat Tim Johnson over Republican John Thune.

In 1992, Republican Arlen Specter beat a challenge by Democrat Lynn Yeakel by a 51-49 margin. During the term Arlen Specter was re-elected to, a Federal gay rights bill was defeated in the Senate by one vote. A tie would have been voted into victory by the Vice President. (Of course the bill would still have had to pass the House where it would have been defeated, but you get the idea.)

Oddly enough, nearly half of all black men and nearly 30 percent of black women in Philadelphia who voted in that election voted for Republican Specter, with the endorsement of several local black Democrat politicians - all male.

In 1974, there was a close race in New Hampshire for a U.S. Senate seat, between Democrat John Durkin and Republican Louis Wyman. A recount went a mere 10 votes in favor of Durkin, reversing an earlier narrow result in favor of Wyman. A second recount went in favor of Wyman by two votes.

Big City Mayoral Elections

In 1999 in Philadelphia, Democrat John Street beat Sam Katz by a margin slightly closer than 51-49 with slightly less than half of all elegible voters actually voting. Now Philadelphia will go 50 years without any Republican mayors. Some Philadelphians will comment on one-party rule! The Philadelphia City Charter even forsees "one party rule" and provides an "affirmative action" program for City Council, guaranteeing at least two of the 17 Council (legislative) seats to politicians of a non-majority party!

State Legislature Elections!

In November 2000 in my home state of Pennsylvania, John Perzel, the Republican Speaker of the House (of the PA legislature) was re-elected by a margin of 92 votes!

Note that for at least 20 years party majority in the PA legislature has mostly been on margins of 1 to 3 seats. And this mostly continues.

There was another messy election on a seat representing part of Philadelphia sometime in the 1980s and decided by a margin of a few dozen votes and that one was messy. Full turnout of a couple blocks in any of some sections of the district could have made the margin big enough to draw a concession speech instead of a big mess! Or if extra turnout on two or three blocks went the other way, the messy process that followed would have ended the other way!

BIG UPDATE 12/4/2006! 23 votes determine party control of Pennsylvania's House of Representatives!

In the 156th district, an official tally including absentee, military and allowed provisional ballots has Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith winning the until-then Republican-held district in Chester County by 23 votes. The vote count was 11,614 to 11,591 and the percentage breakdown was 50.05 to 49.95. This gave the Democrats a 102-101 majority in Pennsylvania's House of Representatives.

The 167th district was also decided by a close margin, 13,556 to 13,412, a margin of 144 votes. The percentage breakdown was 50.3 to 49.7.

Gay Rights Referendum Elections:

UPDATE 11/8/2000 - Not a referendum on a law, but the re-election of a governor signing a controversial one. Vermont is the first U.S. state legally recognizing homosexual couples as being an equivalent of "married", although by name not legally giving homosexual couples the M-word as part of a legally recognized union. On 11/7/2000 the governor who signed this into law was subject to re-election and won by a thin margin closer than 51-49 as of the news program that I saw late at night 11/7/2000.

In 1985 in Houston, a referendum against the new gay rights law passed by a 4-1 margin. Total turnout was less than estimates of Houston's voting age gay population. Afterwards one anti-gay local politician proudly proclaimed how "godless queers don't vote".
But in the following municipal election, they sure did vote. 100 percent of City Council candidates running in the November election on an anti-gay platform (the "Straight Slate") lost. But one of them was defeated by a margin small enough to require waiting a few days for the official count. The shutout of the Straight Slate was made or could have been broken by just a few votes!

Depending on who you agree or disagree with, either some serious bad guys or some serious good guys got shut out by a margin so small that it could not be declared even the next day.

In Houston discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is still legal, and as of late summer 1999 an executive order banning the city from committing such discrimination is tied up in the courts and not in effect.

On February 10 1998, Maine had a referendum on its state law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This was not the first time - anti-gay forces kept getting the referendum on the ballot. But in 1998, with polls indicating antidiscrimination being safe by a 60-40 margin, the referendum succeeded by a 51-49 margin with only 30 percent turnout. Looks like people in Maine did not keep in mind the lessons of Houston.

Written by Don Klipstein.

Copyright (c) 2000, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2018, 2020 Donald L. Klipstein.

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