Decided by One Vote

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Kent Brockman: The controversial bill passed by only a single vote.
Marge: You really should have voted, Homer.

Homer: Oh, it wouldn't have made a difference.

When an election is the main plot of the story, it is inevitably decided by one vote. This can manifest itself in several different ways:

1. The antagonist candidate is declared to have won by one vote. The main characters of the show realize that, in the excitement of the plot, they themselves forgot to vote. Usually, the episode began with the characters trying to convince someone that voting is important. Thus An Aesop is delivered.

2. The vote is discovered to be tied, or very close, but there's still a small amount of time left to vote. A race against the clock ensues.

3. The vote is discovered to be a tie, one person has yet to vote, and they vote unexpectedly.

See also: Down to the Last Play. Subversions of this trope usually involve a Dark Horse Victory or Crack Defeat. The polar opposite of this is a Landslide Election, in which one side completely crushes the other.

Examples of Decided by One Vote include:

Type 1[edit | hide | hide all]

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Happened during Myra Fermin's race for Mayor of Hub City in Denny O'Neil's run on The Question. While dismantling the opposing candidate's plan to hire thugs to attack Fermin's supporters, Vic doesn't find the time to vote himself. However, her opponent is killed before he could be sworn in, so Fermin got the position anyway.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Futurama episode "A Head In The Polls." Leela tries to convince Fry of the importance of voting. Richard Nixon's head in a jar decides to run for president, and acquires Bender's body, which Bender sold to a pawn shop when the price of titanium skyrocketed. After spending the whole episode trying to get Bender's body back from Nixon, the main characters forget to vote. Nixon wins the election by one vote. From the same episode it is said the first robot president won by one vote as well, and pledged not to go on a killing spree. As he was a politician you can imagine what that promise was worth. Given Futurama verse has elected Nixon, a 20 ft alien who used human skulls as cushions and the above killer robot as presidents, some reform may be needed.

Bender: It's not my fault, I'm a non-voting felon!
Fry: And it's not my fault, because I forgot to vote!
Leela: Oh, crud! I knew there was something I forgot to do today!

  • In an early episode of The Simpsons, Bart runs against Martin Prince for class president. After spending the whole episode campaigning, Bart loses the election 2-0, as Martin and his friend were the only ones who voted.
    • A later Simpsons example has an "6 PM under 70 curfew" winning "by a single vote!" Marge says, "Homer, we really should've voted!" Homer moans, "Oh, it wouldn't have made a difference!"
  • The Fairly OddParents episode "Hail to the Chief" subverts this trope by having the protagonist Timmy Turner winning by one vote. Tired of seeing co-Presidents Tad and Chad abusing presidential power, Timmy decided to run for student council president. At the debate, Tad and Chad offered a party with a giant cake and Timmy was sure he'd be the only person to vote for him since even his best friends accepted the bribe. It turned out Timmy was not just the only student to vote for him but the only student to vote at all because all other students became sick from eating to much of the cake and couldn't attend classes the day they're supposed to vote.
  • IIRC, Bobby's World had this. While the main plot involves Bobby electing for class president (which he lost by a landslide), the episode ends with Uncle Ted losing by one vote because he decided not to vote for himself.
  • The Secret Show episode "The Villain Nobody Took Seriously", Victor Volt wasn't concerned about voting at the upcoming World Leader elections because the title's current holder was running unopposed. A clown won the election by renaming himself after the ballot's instruction of where to put the "X" and getting votes from confused voters. The more Changed Daily, who was one of the confused voters, hates it, he recognizes the clown won the election fair and square.

Type 2[edit | hide]

Anime[edit | hide]

  • In the Liar Game, while playing the "Minority Game", where the voters who voted in the minority win, every round ended in the closest possible margin (ie 12-10, 6-4, 3-1.) Of course, this being the Liar Game, It's not a coincidence and in fact tips off Akiyama that there exist more teams besides their own.

Film[edit | hide]

  • Chris Rock movie Head Of State. When the media announces that a black man is on the verge of winning the presidency, the empty streets of California fill with white people madly racing to the polls. However Rock's character takes the time during election day to fulfill an old promise to use his campaign bus to transport poor people during a transit strike. That unusual move creates so much timely good publicity that he wins the election.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Subverted on I Love Lucy, when Lucy and Ethel run against each other for president of their women's club. They discover that half the club intends to vote for Lucy and the other half is going to vote for Ethel, and the deciding vote is Ruth Knickerbocker, a new member of the club. Both immediately begin wining and dining her in order to win her vote. In the end, she ends up getting sick from all the food they feed her and can't vote, so Lucy and Ethel are declared co-presidents.

Webcomic[edit | hide]

  • The Sluggy Freelance spinoff Meanwhile in the Dimension of Pain. Reakk and Terribus are running against each other for the title of Demon Lord, but the evilly-designed ballots turn out to be butterflies whose wings must be torn off as part of the vote. The butterflies all flee into the one sacred area where demons cannot enter. As time to vote runs out, Reakk reaches into the sacred circle, grabbing a butterfly in exchange for severe burns, only to accidentally tear off the wrong wing and give Terribus the victory.

Comic Book[edit | hide]

  • Cerebus the Aardvark issue 44, "The Deciding Vote".
    • Note that this example uses an electoral college system as opposed to the popular vote system used in most of these examples. There's only about a hundred and fifty total "votes". It is almost certainly a mockery of the American electoral college as well- the contest is tied with a final rural district of five votes to be counted. The vote tally for this district is two and two, because apparently only four people in the entire county voted. The magistrate ends up deciding the fifth vote because, contrary to what he had expected, the numbers panned out in such a way that his district's votes actually mattered.
    • In a further subversion, the old guy turns out to be extremely wise and probably the best possible person to decide things.
      • That doesn't stop him from messing with Cerebus by making him trudge miles and miles in the snow to secure his vote, and then when he makes his vote, he refuses to tell Cerebus what it was, thus forcing him to walk all the way back before finding out the outcome. Cerebus responds by asking the man if there's any way he can take back his vote now that it's been made. When he replies that there is not, Cerebus decks him.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • One episode of The Mask featured the Mask running against Mayor Tilton. Stanley only kept Mask in the race because Pretorius, who was posing as Tilton, planned to allow toxic waste to be dumped in Edge City. (It's never been revealed why Pretorius bothered with a re-election campaign rather than simply using Tilton's current authority) After all votes were counted, the Mask was ahead by one vote and pretorius decided to dump the toxic waste anyway but Mask stopped him. The real Mayor Tilton has been rescued and, when a reporter tried to interview him about losing, he pointed out he didn't vote and there's still time. Mayor Tilton then voted for himself, bringing the election to a tie. Stanley then showed up and pointed out that he was so busy being the Mask... 's campaign manager he still hasn't voted. When Mayor Tilton asks Stanley to vote for him, Stanley asked in return that Mayor Tilton removes the extra parking meters, reduces the fee to renew dog licenses and ends the garbagemen's strike. Tilton accepted.
  • In The Littles episode "Every Little Vote Counts", the littles were having a mayoral election and it seemed they'd have a new mayor who'd win by a landslide. However, several people who initially didn't feel like voting were eventually persuaded to understand the true value of a vote and, instead of getting a new mayor, the littles re-elected the "previous" one.


Type 3[edit | hide]

Film[edit | hide]

  • In the third Pirates of the Caribbean film, it is said that there has been no Pirate King for ages, because at any attempt to elect one, everyone votes for themselves. This is apparently going to be the case this time as well, until Jack Sparrow unexpectedly votes for Elizabeth.
  • The film Election centers around a class presidency election between ruthless overachiever Tracy Flick and kind but not-too-bright jock Paul. Tracy wins the election by one vote because Paul decides that it wouldn't be fair for him to vote for himself and votes for Tracy instead.
  • The movie Swing Vote is nothing but this trope.

Live Action Television[edit | hide]

  • Included in the Battlestar Galactica episode "Colonial Day", when the Vice Presidential race between Gaius Baltar and Tom Zarek is a race against the clock. One more vote and Zarek (an admitted terrorist with a lot of public support) gets it. A vote for Baltar (who is really Mike Nelson, Destroyer of Worlds, but no one but him knows it) and it's a tie. The President (who's got a hate-on for Zarek) gets to make the call. Baltar gets the vote, Laura Roslin backs "the devil she knows", and everything starts to go to hell in a handbasket.
    • Played straight later in the series when the Cylons, who always vote by model number end up confused when a single iteration of a model 8 Cylon votes against her model number.
  • Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide: The last vote goes to Coconut Head, who votes for... the weasel. A Zmelik, but subverted because the vice president (the only one who ran for that position) decides to enact the ideas in Ned's platform on behalf of President Weasel.
  • In the first episode of BBC's Middlemarch (and the novel on which it is based), the newcomer who had no interest in voting (as he knew neither of the canidates) was forced to vote when it comes down to a tie. As the novel was written in 1871, this is Older Than Radio.
  • A Dukes of Hazzard episode has Boss Hogg running against a female friend of the Dukes' for a local administrative position. The deciding vote turns out to be Sheriff Rosco's, and he winds up voting for the challenger by mistake.

Theatre[edit | hide]

  • The plot of the musical 1776 hinges on obtaining unanimous ratification for the Declaration of Independence by all 13 colonies (less New York, which abstains – courteously – in the absence of instructions from their legislature). Two of the delegations are split and require extraordinary means to break ties (though historically all the delegations were larger than depicted). First, Delaware's split is broken by dragging back Caesar Rodney (70-odd years old and cancer-ridden); Pennsylvania is swung when pro-independence Ben Franklin asks to poll individual delegates, at which point James Wilson changes sides. In the musical, he claims to desire relative anonymity rather than be remembered as the man who prevented American Independence; historically, Wilson did break the tie, but (as the creators admit in the DVD commentary track) no one really knew why at the time they wrote. (Subsequent historical investigation revealed that he had been playing it safe until he could query his constituents on the issue, and then changed his vote to match what they wanted.)
    • Historically, it was less that Wilson broke the tie, but that John Dickinson stayed home that day, refusing to vote for something that he did not believe in, but willing to allow the vote to pass as it appeared to be the will of the country.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • In the Peanuts TV special "You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown" the election was between Linus and another kid. The election was tied, the other kid was last to vote, but he voted for Linus because he thought Linus would make a better president.
  • An episode of Jimmy Neutron features a variation on this, bordering on subversion. The election for class president is a tie, with the last vote belonging to the cowardly and indecisive Carl—however, rather than voting unexpectedly, he panics and breaks down, revealing that all three of the leading candidates (Sheen, Libby, and Jimmy) were trying to pressure him into voting. They all get disqualified, and Bolbi, an eccentric foreign boy who just started attending the school, wins by default. Also a Zmelik.
  • A South Park episode that aired in November, 2000 features an election for kindergarten class president that results in a tie because a little girl named Flora hadn't voted yet.
    • Subverted in the episode "Douche & Turd" where every other character makes an enormous deal out of Stan's refusal to vote for a new school mascot (he didn't like either choice). When he finally caves and casts his all-important ballot, it turns out that not only was the victory a landslide but the school gets to keep their old mascot anyway, making his vote doubly useless in the end.
  • In the Futurama episode "Future Stock", the stockholders were holding a meeting to decide on their CEO. Hermes, Bender, Leela, Amy and Farnsworth himself vote for Farnsworth. Fry and Scruffy (who owns 4x the stock of the others' individual amounts) vote against him, causing a tie, but the tie is broken by an obscure character with one share. Oh, and Zoidberg owned half the stock but wasn't present for the vote.
  • There's a Simpsons episode, "A Star is Burns" where Homer holds the tie-breaking vote for the film festival, but chooses to throw it away on a third choice, "Man getting hit by football" (in the groin). A remake of which went on to win the Oscar, thank you very much.
  • In the Donkey Kong Country episode "Vote of Kong-fidence", Krusha is the only one who doesn't get to vote at first. He ends up casting the deciding vote for Donkey Kong because DK kept a campaign promise he made earlier (not to hit him the next time he stole the Crystal Coconut). Needless to say, K. Rool is furious with him.
  • On Recess, Gretchen and Vince run against each other for class president. The girls support Gretchen and the boys support Vince. There are two more boys than girls in the class, but Mikey and Gus refuse to take sides... but the election is in Gretchen's favor because Vince decides to vote for her. (Oddly, Gretchen is said to have won by one vote, but that implies that one girl didn't vote; if everyone else voted down the gender lines, Gretchen would actually have won by two. The effect is the same either way, though.)
  • In the Strawberry Shortcake Berryfest Princess Movie, the Berryfest Princess is decided by an election between Strawberry Shortcake and Orange Blossom. When the votes are tallied, the result is a tie, which Mr. Longface Caterpillar, presiding over the events, declares impossible. Orange Blossom realizes that in all the excitement she forgot to vote, and goes to do so. She votes for Strawberry, much to Ms. Shortcake's surprise (implying, perhaps, that Strawberry voted for herself).
  • A 1983 Alvin and The Chipmunks episode had a situation where Alvin and Brittany are running against each other for class president. The tie-breaking vote belongs to Brittany's sister Jeanette, leading to mass lobbying from both candidates. Jeanette votes for Alvin. Brittany doesn't take that well.
  • This was actually done in an early Popeye cartoon. Popeye and Bluto are running for president and the two are tied. The only person who hasn't voted? Olive Oyl. The episode devolves into the usual brawlfest for Olive's attention and, as usual Popeye wins in the end.
  • In The Flintstones, the episode begins with Fred tied the number of votes against his opponent for the club president and knows that Barney is the only one who didn't vote yet. Fred attempts to persuade Barney to vote for him while hanging out together as pals, except that Barney voted for the other guy because Fred's last line while hanging out was "may the best man win". They become sworn enemies throughout this episode.

Machinima[edit | hide]

  • The Red vs. Blue Election Night video had the Red and Blue teams voting to see which one was the best and, as usual, each team was voting for themselves until they finally find s set-up with an odd number of members, only for one person to not vote. It turns out to be the Blood Gulch crew and Grif was the one who didn't vote, having forgotten to register beforehand, leaving the issue unresolved until the next election.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The result of the vote for the mayor of Loire in Terranigma is left up to the protagonist's vote: by voting for the drunkard and conservative Louis, the town won't progress any further, but by voting for the well-dressed and intelligent Jean, he'll ask Louis to be his assistant, allowing the town to develop and prosper further.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • In the short story "Franchise" by Isaac Asimov, the science of voter prediction becomes so refined that the supercomputer is able to select one single individual that is representative of the entire country. He doesn't get to 'vote' so much as hes subjected to a lengthy questioning on assorted electoral and other issues, which together with existing data on demographics and political opinion is used to calculate what everyone would have voted.
    • Just because it's an accurate prediction of who the country would vote for doesn't mean that it's the best candidate to vote for. One popular candidate who later went on to be a bad and unpopular president is blamed on the poor voter for that election, even though he just provided data for the computer to work out the country's preference.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy ends with protagonist Thorby battling the Evil Chancellor for control of his late parents' Mega Corp in a shareholders' election. Evil Chancellor's Beautiful Stepdaughter Leda reveals she has enough stock to swing the election in Thorby's favor.

Comics[edit | hide]

  • In The Spirit, two mayoral candidates (both coerced into running) tie... and the 'tiebreaker' votes for himself, leaving the tie unresolved. The tied candidates seize the chance to transfer their votes to the last voter, leading to his becoming elected unanimously.

Other[edit | hide]

Film[edit | hide]

  • Welcome to Mooseport deals with two mayoral candidates who each eventually declare that they're going to vote for the other fellow as the one better qualified to run the town. One candidate, an experienced politician, secretly votes for himself anyways and wins by one vote, but feels so guilty he admits his subterfuge and tries to step down in favor of the other candidate. The other, a plumber who only sort of wants the position, falsely claims that he voted for himself too, and refuses the offer.
  • In Election, Tracy wins the election for Student Council President by a single vote. Mr. McAllister, having never liked Tracy (he convinced Paul to run against her just to spite her), rigs the election by throwing away two votes for her while counting the ballots, thus allowing Paul to win by one vote.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • While the election is fixed in the movie, in the novel Carrie, this is actually how Carrie won prom queen. The first time the ballots went around, Tommy insisted on voting for themselves. The result was a tie between Frank and Jessica, and Tommy and Carrie. A second set of ballots was passed around, and suddenly experiencing a case of women's intuition, Carrie begs Tommy not to vote for themselves. He does anyway. Guess how many votes they won by.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • In Monty Python's Flying Circus, the Sensible party wins Harpenden by one vote, the Silly vote being split because of two votes going to the Very Silly party instead.
  • An odd variant from headLand: The residents of the Headland Hotel vote on whether Ben Wilde, a recently released murderer, should be allowed to keep his room, after Ben had started a fight after catching Andy stealing from the communal fridge. Adam (Ben's son) and Heath (the manager) are considered out of the running. The other five cast their ballots, and Heath reads them out: Andy and Mel have voted for Ben to leave, Craig and Maddie for him to stay. Heath's sister Sasha has written "Maybe", eventually agreeing to let him stay. In any case, Ben moved out three episodes later.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • One of the shorts of an early episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle had the title characters running against each other for the position of President of their fan club. After vigorous campaigning, the day of the election arrived and Bullwinkle was first to the polls. After voting, he was called by Boris, who informed him that he had won "by a landslide". This being the mountainous region of Frostbite Falls, he was of course referring to an actual landslide, which trapped Bullwinkle in the building where the vote was taking place and prevented anyone else from getting to it. Bullwinkle responded by saying that Rocky was the winner, since that was who he actually voted for.

Real Life[edit | hide]

This occasionally happens in real life (but not nearly as often as oft-repeated chain letters would have you believe). Also, note that all real-life examples - or at least, all real-life examples listed on this page so far - involve voting in parliamentary or representative bodies. Given a voting population of a few dozen or even a few hundred people, and/or candidates chosen by parties, even a completely random vote would be Decided by One Vote once in a while. And elections aren't completely random in ways that make close calls more likely. However, the odds of a general election with a constituency of thousands or millions of people being Decided by One Vote is extremely slim.

  • Edmund Ross pulled a type two when everyone else announced their votes on whether or not to kick out President Andrew Johnson before the trial was over. Ross went against the Republicans (his own party) and thus stopped a complete overhaul of the government and loss of democracy with a single vote.
  • In the 2002 Irish general election, Dan Neville won a seat in the Dáil by just one vote. In the same election, one seat was lost by two votes, but won after a recount.
  • Rutherford B. Hayes was elected President of the United States by one electoral vote after the highly disputed election of 1876.
  • The British Labour government lost a vote of no confidence by one vote on 28 March 1979, leading to 18 years of Conservative rule. Notable because there were several MPs from small parties, or independents, who could have changed history drastically if they had accepted various desperate deals from the government.
    • Not only that. There used to be a system called pairing, whereby if an MP was too ill or otherwise unable to vote an MP from the party opposite would abstain, to keep things fair. For the above vote a Labour MP, Alfred Broughton, was on his deathbed (he died only five days later), and while he was willing to attend the vote Callaghan refused, feeling it was an obscene request. Labour's Deputy Chief Whip spoke to his Tory counterpart, who couldn't find someone to pair and so agreed to abstain himself, but the Labour man felt he couldn't put him in that position. So the government fell because in those days "honourable gentleman" actually meant something (and because Callaghan wasn't inhumanly ruthless enough to bring a dying MP to support his government).
    • The Callaghan government was a goldmine for these sorts of votes, given as they were a minority government at the time. There's an infamous example recounted by Joe Ashton in 1974, in which Leslie Spriggs, long-serving (and long-suffering) Labour MP for St. Helens, was brought to the House in an ambulance, despite having had a heart attack, for a division vote which had ended in a tie. Conservative Whip John Stradling Thomas, upon seeing Spriggs lying in the ambulance, asked "How do we know that he is alive?". In response, Labour Whip Joseph Harper adjusted Spriggs' electrocardiogram so it showed a green light, and then told Thomas, "There, you've lost. It's 311.".
  • Women's suffrage in the United States was decided by one vote during Tennessee's ratification. Harry Burn's anti-suffrage vote would have made the tally 48-48, but decided on his mother's advice to vote suffrage. Tennessee's ratification provided the requisite number of states to ratify the 19th Amendment.
  • Jim Walding won the New Democratic Party nomination by one vote in 1986, and was subsequently reelected to the Manitoba legislature. Two years later, he voted against his own government in a non-confidence motion, and the government was defeated by... a single vote.
  • In 1842, Henry Shoemaker cast a controversial ballot (he'd customized it to put all the candidates he wanted on it) that led to the election of Madison Marsh as Indiana representative. The next year, Marsh cast the tiebreaking vote that put Edward Hannegan on the Senate (as was done at the time). Hannegan, in turn, was the deciding vote for the Mexican War (which led to California become United States territory) and Texas statehood. Hat trick.
  • In 1949, West Germany's federal assembly had to elect a chancellor. 73-year-old Konrad Adenauer won - by, yes, exactly one vote. He then went on to remain chancellor for 14 years, claiming some of the most impressive election triumphs in (West) German history.
  • This has probably happened quite often in British parliamentary history in the time of the rotten boroughs but the Gatting by-election of 1816 stands out. The constituency had three voters, the owner of the constituency, his absent son and their butler. The father nominated the son as a Tory candidate. Then the butler had a quarrel with the father and intended to stand for election himself, but the father refused to back him. The election went to the absent son with one vote against none.
  • At the 2010 British general election, Michelle Gildernew won re-election by four votes (21,304 to 21,300) after three recounts.
    • A subsequent legal challenge later that year repeated that the result stood, though there were a furtherthree disputed ballots. The judge therefore declared "Even if those votes were introduced in breach of the rules and if they had all been counted in favour of the first respondent their exclusion would still have given the first respondent a majority of one vote and the result would not have been affected".[1].
      • In the 1997 general election, Mark Oaten won the Winchester division for the Liberal Democrats by two votes after several recounts and a lot of haggling. His Conservative opponent successfully challenged the result in court and a by-election was held in which Oaten won by 21,556 votes.
  • Christine Gregoire won the 2004 Washington gubernatorial race by 129 votes, after several recounts, the last of which was by hand.
  • In the 2010 Dutch general election, the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy beat the Labour Party by one seat to become the largest party in the House of Representatives.
  • The decision who should host the 2006 World Cup was decided by one vote amongst much controversy. It was down to South Africa and Germany as the contenders, both having the support of exactly one half of the 24 committee. In the expected case of a tie, the deciding vote would have been cast by FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who was known to support South Africa. Amongst some political pressure and a prank by German satire magazine Titanic, New Zealand representative Dempsey abstained, so the final outcome was 12-11 Germany. (Blatter then changed the rules for host application, making sure that South Africa would get the 2010 World Cup.)
  • There was a proposed constitutional amendment in 1946 to ban the immigration of Japanese people to Brazil. It came down to a tie of 99 for-99 against, with Fernando de Melo Viana casting the decisive vote to reject the amendment.
  • Type 3 occurred in the 2011 Switzerland parliamentary elections, where two candidates scored exactly the same number of votes in a popular election. The vote was eventually decided by sortition.
  • Type 1 occurred in the 2012 Iowa caucus. Mitt Romney apparently squeaked a win over Rick Santorum by eight votes, but after recounting, Santorum won by thirty-four votes, which is still VERY close. Due to the way the USA's nomination system works, the race was treated as a tie.