The vote count drama in the NC Supreme Court Chief Justice race brought back memories of other incredibly tight election vote counts from the past. The latest count in that race has Justice Paul Newby ahead by about 406 more votes than Chief Justice Cheri Beasley out of nearly 5.4 million ballots cast.
We thought it might be interesting to look at just how much each person’s vote matters when it comes to deciding elections. “Your vote counts” is often said in a flippant manner, but when it actually ends up close to making a real difference, the value of each person’s vote becomes a precious thing.
Voter turnout this year occurred at record rates. So much effort is made by campaigns with grassroots activity to get voters to go to the polls – contacts made by door-to-door visits, phone calls, texting, etc. This year voting by mail was heavily emphasized as well. We all watch on TV, on our phones, and through social media where millions and millions of dollars are spent to persuade and motivate voters.
It’s amazing that with all that effort, statewide and regional campaigns still often come down to less than 1000 vote differences or even narrower margins. In local campaigns, margins are often even less. The narrower the margin, the more focus is put on an individual’s vote and its importance seems to rise.
Here in North Carolina, back in 1980, then-challenger U.S. Senator John East defeated incumbent Senator Robert Morgan by 10,411 votes and that was called a squeaker. Years later, current 7th District U.S. Congressman David Rouzer went down to defeat in his first congressional run in 2012 to then-incumbent Congressman Mike McIntyre by 654 votes.
In 2016, incumbent Governor Pat McCrory lost by a little over 10,000 votes out of more than 4,600,000 cast to now-Governor Roy Cooper. That same year, State Auditor challenger Chuck Stuber lost to incumbent State Auditor Beth Wood by 6,042 votes out of around 4.5 million votes cast.
Once you’ve been through a few close ones like that, every single vote becomes a special thing.
In 2017, a Virginia House of Delegates race where more than 23,000 people voted ended in a tie. The tie was broken by pulling a name, placed in a film canister, out of a bowl.
In 2016, in Vermont, a Democrat primary election for state House totaling 2000 votes was decided by one vote, and that same year, a general election race for state Senate involving 7400 votes was decided by one vote.
In 2008, Democrat challenger Al Franken defeated Republican U.S. Senator Norm Coleman by 312 votes out of almost 2.9 million votes cast – to go on and become a U.S. Senator and give Democrats a 60-vote supermajority in the U.S. Senate.
In 2000, many folks still remember well the “hanging chads” in the state of Florida in the national presidential race between Al Gore and George W. Bush – ultimately a win for Bush by 537 votes out of almost 6 million votes cast.
In 1994, a Wyoming state House race ended in a 1,941-1,941 tie – settled by pulling a ping-pong ball out of a hat on national TV.
And can you imagine the reaction to one-vote decisions in U.S. Congressional races in 1882, 1854, two in 1847, and 1829.
Close political contests through our history are what help make U.S. elections almost as much a spectator sport as professional football or baseball. The closer the election, the more drama.
It just so happens the results of elections can change the direction of our state, country, and even the world.