Election Day Eve Special Post: Elections in History

I VotedTomorrow is an important midterm election in many states in the U.S. That is, if one considers midterm elections important. Elections on a grand scale tend to make the most news: seven billion votes in this year’s election in Afghanistan and nearly a billion in India’s general election. In the UK’s general election in 1918, the nationalist party Sinn Fein won an overwhelming majority in Irish districts and declared the island independent. India’s 1952 general election placed one of the independence movement’s central figures, Jawaharlal Nehru, in the position of Prime Minster, allowing him to shape a newly independent country in a politically and religiously divided atmosphere. These elections involved the participation of millions of people, and received much attention from the world.

Midterm elections may not be on such grand scales, but voting can still make a difference. I researched a few elections where one or two votes determined the outcome. The following are among the more interesting cases:

1887: Conservative Party member Walter Montague won the Canadian federal election in Haldimand, defeating the Liberal Party incumbent Charles Wesley Colter, by one vote. The victory was contested, he was unseated, and won in a second election the same year. That victor was also contested, and he was finally defeated in 1889, which made no difference because he won again in the next election in 1890. He witnessed harsh Canadian politics divided between French Catholics and English Protestants in the relatively new Canadian Confederation formed officially in 1867.

1839: In the gubernatorial election in Massachusetts, considered one of the closest elections in U.S. history, Democrat Marcus Morton defeated Whig Edward Everett by two votes. Although he technically received exactly half of the votes cast and not a majority, he won more than his Whig opponent. A primary concern during the election was the abolition of slavery.

2010: The Kitchener City Council, in Ontario, Canada, saw the victory of Frank Etherington by one vote. Although the city has a population of about 200,000 people, making it a relatively small city, the close call election is still relevant because it went uncontested. Even city council elections are important, and if one or two people chose to vote for another person, the election would have gone another direction.

There are many examples of one or two votes being the deciding factors of elections. Though recounts often differ from the initial results, there are numerous examples of uncontested elections. While there is a history of corruption in United States elections (in Texas in the 1930s “stuffing” ballots was a relatively common practice) and elections in general can often take preposterous turns (some parliamentarians in India have won elections from inside a jail cell after their arrest for corruption or other crimes), these events are all important moments in history. While it is unlikely that tomorrow’s election will later become a marked day in United States history, there is still the opportunity to make minor changes at a local level. A single vote may only make a difference on rare occasions, but such an occasion tomorrow is far from impossible.


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