Ten of the Closest Elections Ever Held

Header image: US Marine Corps

The scene is Britain, it’s autumn 2019 and the third UK General Election in four years is just around the corner.

Exhaustion, disenfranchisement and frustration with the political system are rife. Especially for people who live in constituencies that are strongholds, where it can feel like a particular party has had an unassailable majority since records began.

If you, like me, are from one of these areas, it can be easy to wonder why you should bother voting. Why should you waste the time and paper? It won’t matter anyway.

But it just might.

It might be wasted, or it might just turn out to be the vote that swung the election, the vote that toppled a tyrant.

1: Raffle Breaks Deadlock in Australia

Image source: Wikicommons

In Australia in 1985 a historic vote was decided the same way that they decide who take the prize at a village fair, by having a raffle.

The Victorian Legislative Council, the upper house of Victoria’s two chamber parliament was having elections, and the running was close. The Labour party had 22 seats and the Liberals 21 with only one seat left to declare.

The two candidates, Labour’s Mr Bob Ives and the Liberal’s Mrs Rosemary Varty, were tied, on 54,821 votes each.

The raffle handed Bob Ives the victory and created the first ever Labour majority in the Victorian House.

It didn’t last long however. The courts ordered another election held and the Liberal Rosemary Varty won, by nearly 10,000 votes.

2: Flip A coin for Mayor

Image Source: Wikicommons

In 2003 in the Philippines Marvic Feraren was running against Salvador “Boyet” Py to be the Mayor of San Teodoro, a town in the Mindoro Oriental province.

Both of them received exactly 3,236 votes. The deadlock had to be broken.

Mr Feraren and Mr Py amicably agreed to let a coin toss decide the winner.

This wasn’t as decisive as they’d hoped though as, strangely, they agreed it would be best of 4 tosses, a system under which they each won twice.

They then decided to do a best of three, which finally yielded a winner. Mr Feraren was the Mayor, but not for long.

Just a few months later Mr Py changed his mind, he said the coin toss had been unfair and he wanted a recount.

News on whether the recount happened or whether the election was held again is hard to find, but Salvador Py is listed as Mayor here, so it seems the coin toss was overturned.

3: Film Canisters for Virginia House of Delegates

Image source: Wikicommons

Tracing its history back to the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, the Virginia House of Delegates is about as historical as it gets for the United States.

In the 2017 elections to it the Democratic candidate, Shelly Simonds, was initially declared the winner by just one vote.

However judges of a recount decided that that one ballot had a slash through the mark next to Simonds’ name, meaning it was not intended as a vote for her.

The democrat, and her Republican rival David Yancey, were left on 11,608 votes each. With the Republicans holding 50 of the seats and the Democrats 49, a majority hung in the balance.

Empty film canisters were fetched and names put inside in another reimagining of the class raffle.

What happened next you can see below:

The Republican candidate won, and the party took control of the house.

4: Losing by A single vote, Yours

Image source: Pixabay

In 1988 Democrat Herbert Connolly was running against Robert B. Kennedy for a place on the Massachusetts Governor’s Council.

The race was always going to be a close one and Mr Connolly was out all day doing some last-minute campaigning. He campaigned so late the polling station closed before he could make it there.

When the votes were counted Mr Kennedy had 14,716, whereas Mr Connolly had 14,715.

Mr Connolly had lost the primary election by just one vote: his own.

5: Family turnout

Mr Joshi: UNDP

In 2008 in Jaipur, C P Joshi was in the ascendancy. He was state Congress president and tipped to be the next first minister, but politics is anything but certain and he had elections to contest.

Mr Joshi’s opponent was Kalyan Singh Chauhan and the vote was going to be close. Each candidate was desperate for every vote they could get.

When the votes were counted Mr Joshi had 62,215 votes to Mr Chauhan’s 62,216.

Fortunately, and unlike Mr Connolly above, Mr Joshi had remembered to vote.

Unfortunately that’s more than could be said about his wife and mother.

Mr Joshi complained after rumours spread that Mr Chauhan’s wife had done for her husband twice what his wife hadn’t done once, voting at two different stations. The High Court upheld his complaint and the election was redone.

Mr Joshi still lost, but at least he couldn’t blame the two most important women in his life the second time.

6: a Dick in a box

Corinthia: Felix Mittermeier

In Carinthia, Austria, there was a legislative body with a Green representative in it all thanks to a drawing of male genitalia.

The Green candidate was running against the Bündnis Zukunft Österreich (BZÖ), or The Alliance for the Future of Austria, in the 2013 elections when it came down to a tie.

There was a single vote more in favour of the Greens, but it had a picture of a penis rather than a tick in the relevant box.

The judges decided that, since the member was so neatly drawn inside the correct box, it would do in place of the standard check mark and it was counted.

The BZÖ obviously complained, but the result was upheld and it seems dicks counting as ticks wasn’t a unique occurence.

In the UK in 2015 the Welsh conservative MP Glyn Davies collected 15,204 votes, one of which was also a small penis drawn neatly inside the box.

The MP said: “I’m not sure the artist meant it to count, but I am grateful. If I knew who it was, I would like to thank him (or her) personally.”

7: Virginia VOte Thrown out

Image source: Wikicommons

If the Austrians and English are happy to have genitals count on their ballot, the US might have been a little stricter.

In 1973, in another vote for the Virginia House of Delegates, the Republican William Moss was running on a anti-segregation ticket against the Democrat Jim Burch.

The race was a tight one. With the votes were counted Moss was ahead by a single vote.

Unfortunately, that vote didn’t only feature a tick in his box, but crosses in others with the annotation “Do not desire to vote for these two!“.

The judges decided that this was a spoiled ballot and disqualified it.

The Elections Board chairman was blindfolded and asked to choose an envelope at random. Moss won and justice was served.

Two years later he would lose that seat by just 0.03% of the vote.

8: Marcus “Landslide” Morton

Morton: Wikicommons

Although a historical figure nowadays, Landslide Morton couldn’t possibly be left off a list about narrow election victories.

In 1839 Morton ran for governor of Massachusetts, an election which he won by a single vote, taking 51,034 of the 102,066 votes cast.

That didn’t earn his nickname though, that came three years later in 1842, when he did it all over again.

9: The Somaliland Presidency

Somaliland: Wikicommons

It isn’t always the smaller seats that are so closely contested, sometimes even the highest powers in the land are decided by a handful of votes.

In Africa in the state of Somaliland (which isn’t technically a country despite having all the pre-requisites except power and international recognition) the 2003 presidential elections were running too close to call.

With everything tallied Dahir Riyale Kahin won with 205,595 against his rival Ahmed Mohamed Mohamud Silanyo’s 205,515, a gap of just 80 votes.

The electoral commission called for: “every candidate, whether defeated or not, to respect the result of the elections.

“There is no other asset that Somaliland can rely on than peace.”

10: Uk Constituencies

These close calls aren’t all confined to the past or foreign countries. In the last general election the SNP held the constituency of Fife North East, beating the Liberal Democrats by just two votes.

Although that was the closest result, it was far from unique. Labour claimed Kensington by just twenty votes, and the Conservatives held Southampton Itchen by just 31.

Overall, the last general election saw Jeremy Corbyn reportedly lose out by just 2,227 votes.

With this next national vote potentially defining UK politics for the coming decades, taking part will be more crucial than ever.

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