Why Every Vote Counts

Politics, Tips & how-to

Many elections and ballot initiatives come down to the wire—and recounts happen more often than you might think. Here are some examples of close calls:

Presidential Elections

The U.S. presidential election of 2000 was almost too close to call. George W. Bush beat Al Gore by 5 electoral votes, but lost the popular vote by 543,816 votes. The real nail-biter in this one was when there was a controversy over who won Florida’s 25 electoral votes when a recount ensued; Bush won Florida by a mere 537 votes out of over 5.9 million cast in the state.

In 1948, underdog Harry Truman defeated Thomas Dewey so narrowly that newspaper headlines prematurely released incorrect headlines reading “Dewey Defeats Truman.” Oops.

One of the most intense (and disputed) presidential elections happened in 1876, when Rutherford Hayes defeated Samuel Tilden by one electoral vote—and lost the popular vote by a landslide. The final outcome hinged on disputed results in four states, where accusations were made of ballot tampering and refusing to count African Americans’ votes.

Races for Senate

In a 1974 race for an open seat in New Hampshire, Republican Louis Wyman’s and Democrat John Durkin’s election came down to 2 votes out of 223,363 (the closest election in the history of the Senate) in favor of Wyman. However, after recounts and prolonged Senate battles, the two agreed to have a new election, which Durkin won by 27,000 votes.

In the 2008 race for Minnesota Senate, Al Franken defeated Norm Coleman by 312 votes out of over 2.4 million. Franken officially won only after Coleman challenged the results in court and the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in favor of Franken.

Ballot Initiatives

Proposition 29—a recent California initiative to enforce a $1-per-pack tax hike on cigarettes to fund cancer research—appears to have lost by a smidgeon, although a recount has been called for. The loss is the closest of a ballot initiative in California history (30,000 out of 5 million votes cast, unofficially).

Who Doesn’t Vote, and Why?

A 2006 poll by the Pew Research Center revealed a number of reasons people don’t vote: not knowing everything about candidates or issues, thinking voting doesn’t change things, or business. The California Voter Foundation took a survey that found 28 percent of infrequent voters and 23 percent of unregistered voters said they don’t vote or register because they are too busy. For those of you who fall into this category, check out information on early voting or absentee ballots.

According to NPR, 31 states require identification at the polls; 3.2 million American’s don’t possess a government-issued picture ID, most of which are the elderly minorities, the poor, and young adults ages 18-24. The Brennan Center estimates that 18 percent of all seniors and 25 percent of African-Americans don’t have picture IDs.

Bottom line: vote! And encourage your friends to do the same. Wear your “I Voted” sticker with pride, because people who vote do make a difference.