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10 Elections Decided by One Vote (Or Less)

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On Tuesday, December 19, Democrat Shelly Simonds won a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates by a single vote in a narrow-as-narrow-can-get victory. [Update: A court tossed out Simonds' victory and for now it's a tie again.] Though a one-vote win is both historic and rare, it's happened before. 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. Just last year, 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.

9 Fascinating Facts About John Quincy Adams

Today marks the 251st birthday of John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the United States (and son of our second POTUS, John Adams). Born on July 11, 1767 in a part of Braintree, Massachusetts that is now known as Quincy, the younger Adams was a pretty interesting guy. From his penchant for skinny-dipping to his beloved pet alligator, here are some things you might not have known about the skilled statesman.

1. HE WAS ELECTED PRESIDENT DESPITE LOSING BOTH THE POPULAR AND ELECTORAL VOTES.

The election of 1824, which saw John Quincy Adams face off against Andrew Jackson, is the only presidential election that had to be decided by the U.S. House of Representatives, as neither candidate won the majority of electoral votes. Despite losing both the popular and electoral vote, Adams was named president by the House.

2. HE LOVED MORNING CARDIO.

When it comes to personal fitness, early birds have an edge. Studies have shown that morning workouts can curb your appetite, prevent weight gain, and even help you get a good night’s sleep later on. Nobody understood the virtues of morning exercise better than Adams. As America’s foreign minister to Russia, Adams would wake up at five, have a cold bath, and read a few chapters from his German-language Bible. Then came a six-mile walk, followed by breakfast. 

3. HE WAS AN AVID SKINNY-DIPPER.

As president, Adams got his exercise by taking a daily dip in the Potomac … naked. Every morning at 5:00 a.m., he would walk to the river, strip down, and go for a swim. Sadly, the most famous swimming anecdote likely never happened. The story is that when Adams refused an interview with reporter Anne Royall, she hiked down to the river while he was swimming, gathered his clothes, and sat on them until he agreed to talk. But modern historians tend to agree that this story was a later invention. That’s not to say, however, that Adams never talked about Royall. In his diaries he wrote “[Royall] continues to make herself noxious to many persons; treating all with a familiarity which often passes for impudence, insulting those who treat her with incivility, and then lampooning them in her books.”

4. HE ENJOYED A GOOD GAME OF POOL.

Adams installed a billiards table in the White House shortly after becoming president. The new addition quickly became a subject of controversy when Adams accidentally presented the government with the $61 tab (in reality he had paid for it himself). Nonetheless, political enemies charged that the pool table symbolized Adams’s aristocratic taste and promoted gambling.

5. HE WAS AN AMAZING ORATOR, BUT TERRIBLE AT SMALL TALK.

Although Adams was nicknamed “Old Man Eloquent” for his unparalleled public speaking ability, he was terrible at small talk. Aware of his own social awkwardness, Adams once wrote in his diary, “I went out this evening in search of conversation, an art of which I never had an adequate idea. Long as I have lived in the world, I never have thought of conversation as a school in which something was to be learned. I never knew how to make, to control, or to change it.”

6. HE KEPT A PET ALLIGATOR IN A BATHTUB AT THE WHITE HOUSE.

Adams had a pet alligator, which was gifted to him by the Marquis de Lafayette. He kept it in a tub in the East Room of the White House for a few months, supposedly claiming that he enjoyed watching “the spectacle of guests fleeing from the room in terror.”

7. WHEN IT CAME TO POLITICS, HE PLAYED DIRTY.

The presidential election of 1828—when incumbent John Quincy Adams got crushed by longtime rival Andrew Jackson—is famous for the mudslinging tactics employed by both sides. Adams’s side said Jackson was too dumb to be president, claiming that he spelled Europe “Urope.” They also hurled insults at Jackson’s wife, calling her a “dirty black wench” for getting together with Jackson before divorcing her first husband. Jackson’s side retorted by calling Adams a pimp, claiming that he had once procured an American girl for sexual services for the czar while serving as an ambassador to Russia.

8. HE’S RESPONSIBLE FOR ACQUIRING FLORIDA.

Next time you find yourself soaking up some rays in the Sunshine State, take a moment to thank Adams. As Secretary of State, Adams negotiated the Adams-Onís Treaty, which allowed the U.S. to acquire Florida and set a new boundary between the U.S. and New Spain. That’s right: Walt Disney World might not have been built if it weren’t for the sixth president.

9. HE KIND OF HATED BEING PRESIDENT. 

Adams once reportedly stated, “The four most miserable years of my life were my four years in the presidency.” But even if he hated being commander-in-chief, Adams couldn’t bear to be out of the political loop for too long. After finishing his term as president, Adams served 17 more years in the House of Representatives, where he campaigned against further extension of slavery. In fact, he died shortly after suffering a stroke on the House floor.

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Columbia Pictures
11 Surprising Facts About In the Line of Fire
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

In 1993, after more than a decade of moving from the hands of one producer to another, Jeff Maguire’s script for In the Line of Fire finally made its way to the big screen. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen, the film starred John Malkovich, Renee Russo, and Clint Eastwood as a longtime Secret Service agent still harboring guilt about not being able to protect JFK—and ready to make sure another presidential assassination doesn’t happen on his watch. The cat-and-mouse game ended up earning more than $100 million at the box office, making it the seventh highest grossing film of the year. To celebrate the political thriller’s 25th anniversary, here are 11 things you might not have known about In the Line of Fire.

1. THE SCRIPT MADE THE ROUNDS.

Clint Eastwood in 'In the Line of Fire' (1993)
Columbia Pictures

Jeff Maguire wrote the script for In the Line of Fire more than 10 years before it would ever hit the big screen—and his lack of success getting a script produced in the interim had put him and his wife in a precarious financial situation. With mounting credit card bills, overdue rent, and a phone that was about to be disconnected, Maguire and his wife were just getting ready to give up on Los Angeles and move toward a quieter life in New Hampshire when he got a call that Rob Reiner’s Castle Rock Entertainment had purchased the script for a cool $1 million.

“That day we traded in a blouse I got my wife for her birthday so we could go out and celebrate," Maguire told The New York Times of how the couple found the cash to celebrate his success. The hard work—and waiting—paid off: Less than a year after almost giving up on the Hollywood dream, Maguire earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

2. THE IDEA WAS PARTLY INSPIRED BY A MEETING WITH LYNDON B. JOHNSON.

The idea to write a script about a Secret Service agent was suggested to Maguire by producer Jeff Apple, who had long dreamed of making a political thriller when, as a child, he had the chance to meet Lyndon B. Johnson but was equally impressed by the security detail that surrounded the then-Vice President.

3. AT ONE POINT, ROBERT REDFORD WAS ATTACHED TO STAR.

Though Clint Eastwood will forever be associated with the role of ultra-dedicated Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan, he was hardly the first choice for the role. As the script made its way around Hollywood over the years, a number of other actors were either attached to or offered the project, including Robert Redford. Dustin Hoffman, Sean Connery, James Caan, Tommy Lee Jones, and Val Kilmer were among the other names wanted for the role of Horrigan.

4. ONE STUDIO WANTED IT TO BE REWRITTEN FOR TOM CRUISE.

Though Maguire was anxious to get the script sold, he had a very clear vision for the story and wasn’t willing to compromise on certain points—even if it meant passing up a big payday. When the higher-ups at Imagine, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s company, expressed interest in purchasing the script if Maguire would rewrite the lead so that a younger actor like Tom Cruise, who was in his late 20s at the time, could play it, the struggling scribe flat-out refused. Making the character younger would mean that he’d have to toss out the JFK subplot, which was a deal-breaker for Maguire.

5. ROBERT DE NIRO WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR THE ROLE OF MITCH LEARY.

John Malkovich turned in a creepy and memorable performance as Mitch Leary, In the Line of Fire’s would-be presidential assassin. But like Eastwood, Malkovich wasn’t the filmmakers’ first choice for the role. That honor belonged to Robert De Niro, who eventually had to pass on the project due to scheduling conflicts with A Bronx Tale. Jack Nicholson and Robert Duvall were also reportedly in contention for the part.

6. FRANK HORRIGAN WAS INSPIRED BY ONE OF JFK’S SECRET SERVICE AGENTS.

Though the movie is a work of fiction, main character Frank Horrigan was partly inspired by Clint Hill, one of John F. Kennedy’s Secret Service agents who was on duty the day the 35th president was assassinated in Dallas. In 1975, Hill sat down for an emotional interview with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, where he broke down and admitted that he felt responsible for what had happened that terrible day.

“I still feel today a sense of failure and responsibility because that was our job: to keep the president safe, to protect him at all costs,” Hill said. “And on that particular day, we were unable to do that.” Much of Horrigan’s desire to right that wrong came from Hill’s interview.

7. THE SECRET SERVICE OFFERED THEIR FULL COOPERATION—WHICH WAS A FIRST FOR THE AGENCY.

In the Line of Fire holds the distinction of being the first movie that received the Secret Service’s full cooperation in getting the film made. “They didn't agree to help us because they thought the film would portray them in a heroic light—Clint plays a pretty flawed character, and John [Malkovich]'s character makes some very negative points about the Secret Service,” director Wolfgang Petersen told the Los Angeles Times. “I think the Secret Service was interested in the possibility of their world being accurately portrayed in a Hollywood film for the first time. They didn't want us to make a commercial for them, they just wanted it to be real, and though they had no creative control, they made many suggestions we happily accepted.”

8. WOLFGANG PETERSEN WAS A LITTLE INTIMIDATED BY CLINT EASTWOOD.

Though he was already a highly acclaimed director with two Oscar nominations on his resume (for writing and directing 1981’s Das Boot), Petersen admitted that the idea of directing a Hollywood icon like Eastwood was a slightly terrifying prospect.

"I must admit, I was initially a bit intimidated at the prospect of directing Clint, but any fears I had disappeared after our first meeting, and once we started shooting he never challenged my direction," Petersen told the Los Angeles Times. “At the beginning he told me, 'I won't interfere, but if you want my advice I'll be there for you—otherwise I'll leave you alone.' I took up his offer and consulted him a lot.”

9. DROPPING EASTWOOD INTO HISTORIC MOMENTS COST A PRETTY PENNY.

In order to create as realistic a portrait as possible of Eastwood’s history with the Secret Service Agency, the filmmakers implemented some state-of-the-art computer effects to swap out the faces of real agents with the actor’s to show him being part of key events with Bill Clinton and George Bush. But as the JFK plotline was so integral to Horrigan’s character, it was important to Petersen that the audience be able to witness that as well, which became their biggest challenge, as Eastwood would have been 30 years younger. The solution? Drop footage of Eastwood from the original Dirty Harry into archival footage of JFK’s motorcade. It’s estimated that 10 percent of In the Line of Fire’s $40 million budget went to its digital effects.

10. JOHN MALKOVICH COULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT ALL THE RUNNING.

When asked about the toughest part of playing the unhinged antagonist, Malkovich admitted that it was the physicality of the role. "The hardest thing about this part was all the running I had to do,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I hate running and don't intend to do it again for a long time. I didn't train for the running scenes either—I just put down my cigarettes for a minute and ran."

11. IT COULD BE TURNED INTO A TV SERIES … MAYBE.

Frank Horrigan could rise again. In 2015, Deadline reported that In the Line of Fire was being turned into a television series at ABC. There’s been no update since on any casting or a release date, so it very well could be a stalled project. But you never know.

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