A list of those instances in which decisions of sometimes huge import have been won or lost by one vote, and one voter who was sometimes bribed, cajoled or threatened, was published in Defining Democracy, Springer 2012.  The list, however, continues to grow, and if any readers know of further instances, do please let us know.

It also includes some equally close elections, where the margin between victor and vanquished was either just one vote, or of the order of less than one per cent.


C.2 Decisions


23.2.1782          Britain               ‘At two in the morning,’ (Hansard), a motion to end Britain’s participation in the US war of independence, (in which Jean-Charles de Borda captains a French frigate), is lost by one vote: 194 to 193.


9.1.1794            USA                 A petition is submitted to the House of Representatives to recognize German as an official language; it is rejected by 42–41. Hence the Muhlenberg legend, named after Frederick, the first speaker, although he himself abstains.


22.1.1799          Ireland               In the Dublin parliament, Lord Castlereagh wins a vote on the union of Ireland and Britain by one vote.


23.3.1831          Britain               The second reading of the First Reform Bill, extending the male franchise, reducing the number of “rotten boroughs”, but not yet introducing the secret ballot, is passed by just one vote.


27.3.1866          USA                 President Johnson vetoes the Radicals’ Civil Rights Bill, so the Radicals try to impeach him. By a single vote, however, they fail to gain the necessary two-thirds majority in the Senate.


30.1.1875          France               Much to the surprise of the monarchists, the National Assembly passes a rather innocuous law which, as it were by default, recognizes the Third Republic; the vote is 353–352. Mareęchal Patrice de Mac-Mahon, a monarchist (of Irish descent) becomes the president, but he is perhaps best remembered for another mistake: “Typhoid fever is a terrible sickness,” he says, “Either you die from it or you become an idiot. And I know what I’m talking about, I had it”.


30.3.1900          Netherlands        The conservative minister F.D. graaf Schimmelpenninck achieves notoriety by falling off his horse. He thus fails to vote against a bill for compulsory education which is passed by one vote, 50 to 49.


-.-.1903             Russia               The Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party, meeting in London, splits into the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks (the majority and the minoruity) by 19 votes to 17, with 3 abstentions.


16.8.1927          Ireland               On paper, the FF opposition has a majority of one; a vote of no confidence is called. Alas, come the vote, one of its members, a Mr Jinks, the member for Sligo, is missing. The result is a tie. The speaker then uses his casting vote and the Taoiseach, WT Cosgrave, survives, just. The opposition shouts, ‘One vote! Resign, resign!’ but he replies, ‘One vote! That is democracy.’ (Letters, Irish Times, 7.3.1996). The ‘accepted version [of history, however,] is that Mr Jinks [is] plied with drink and put on the train to Sligo by [one] Mr Smylie of the Irish Times’. (Jordan 2006: 154) Mindful of his good fortune, Mr Cosgrave gives a race horse the name Jinks and it wins the 1929 Two Thousand Guineas.


14.5.1959          Sweden              In a 1957 three-option referendum on pensions, 46% say “this”, 15% “that”, 35% “the other” and 4% nothing. So “this” wins, say “these”.  But “those” and the “others” say they have an “anti-this” majority. So parliament votes, “these” against “those”, 115–114, with one abstention.


24.8.1963          Norway              In 1961, parliament consists of 74 Conservative, 74 Labour and 2 Socialist, so the two left-wing parties form the government. A report into coal mine accidents leads to a vote of confidence, the two Socialists switch, and the Conservatives take over. However, when the latter present their programme for government, the Socialists switch back again.


14.12.1964         Sri Lanka           In June 1964, two parties form the government. The junior partner then splits into two, but there is also dissension in the senior partner, and the Leader of the House crosses the floor to defeat the government on its “throne speech” by just one vote.


27.4.1972          Germany            The CDU opposition puts Chancellor Willy Brandt’s policy of detente to a constructive vote of no-confidence (Sect. but they fail to get an absolute majority by two votes. On the morrow, the budget vote is tied, 247 to 247.


28.3.1979          UK                   James Callaghan loses a vote of confidence, not least because Frank Maguire MP, the publican republican, abstained.


17.1.1982          Ireland               Mr Jim Kemmy, a former member of the Labour Party, votes against the FG/Labour Party coalition budget, which is thus defeated by 82 votes to 81. In the subsequent election FF is returned to power and Haughey to the post of Taoiseach.


17.5.1989          China                The Politbureau Standing Committee meets to discuss imposing martial law on the students’ protests in Tiananmen (Tiān‘ānmén ) Square, and one “version has it that [they] did vote and split 2-2, with one abstention.” (Tiger Head, Snake Tails by Jonathan Fenby, Simon and Schuster, 2012, p 180.)


22.7.1993          UK                   Feelings are high.  The ‘stretcher vote’ – mps who are desperately ill, i.e., on stretchers, are being brought in to the lobbies by both sides.  Come the vote, the tellers fail to note an ‘overcount’ of one Labour vote, so a Labour amendment to John Major’s government’s proposal on the Maastricht Treaty is a tie, 317 votes both for and against; so the speaker uses her casting vote in accordance with the 1867 decision “not to create a majority where none exists”.


1994                 Finland              ‘Most decisions in the Finnish Parliament [c. 85%] are made without voting,’ but even on this limited agenda, there were ‘8 such [won or lost by one] votes’ in 1994 ‘plus 3 ties’. (Correspondence from the Finnish embassy.)


-.-.1994             Hong Kong        A private members’ bill for the Legislative Council to be fully elected loses by one vote, not least because Lord (Chris) Patten, the Governor, votes against.


27.11.1997         Austria              In the National Council, one law on homosexuality is “defeated” by 91:91, but another is passed by 90:89.


9.10.1998          Italy                  The government of President Romano Prodi collapses by 313–312 votes because one member of Prodi’s coalition changes sides.


17.4.1999          India                 The 14-party coalition is brought down by 270 votes to 269; a genral election follows, and Atal Behari Vajpayee returns to power at the head of a 24-party coalition.


9.11.1999          Moldova            While Estonia thinks an absolute majority in a 101-member chamber is 51, the Moldovan constitutional Court says it is 52. The latter government with this minimal level of support collapses after only 8 months in power.


18.5.1999          Netherlands        De nacht van Wiegel, the Wiegel-night. A law to introduce referendums into the Dutch constitution fails by one vote. On the next day, the government collapses as a result of the Dutch liberal, Mr Wiegel, who votes against.


1999–2000         Denmark            ‘In the parliamentary year 1999–2000, five votes are decided with a margin of only one vote,’ says a letter from the Danish Embassy; ‘this happens quite often.’


4.8.2000            EU                    273 votes are in favour while 273 are against the European proposal to ease cross-border take-overs for the multi-nationals.


28.11.2004         Switzerland        The canton of Bern holds a multi-option referendum, on three majority votes.  Option A beats B by 51.6% to 48.4%.  Option B beats C by 50.6% to 49.4%.  And option C beats A by 51.1% to 48.9%.  So the winner is… well it’s obvious isn’t it?  Well, yes, OK, it was A.  Eh? 


19.5.2005          Canada              On its first reading, much to everyone’s surprise, the minority government’s budget is supported by the opposition. Come the second reading, however, amidst allegations of government corruption, the vote is 152:152. The speaker now uses his casting vote to maintain the debate, which then centres on accusations of the opposition cajoling one of the independent MPs by bribery.


24.7.2005          Bulgaria                         By a margin of one vote, Sergei Dmitriev Stanishev is approved as PM. The cabinet he then proposes, however, is disallowed by the same margin. 


30.8.2008          Turkey              6 of the 11 judges on the Constitutional Court voted to outlaw the Justice and Development Party for being “too Islamic”, but thus failed to get the required weighted majority of 7 votes.


11.3.2010          Sweden              The government recognizes the 1915 Ottoman genocide in Armenia by 131–130.


14.12.2010         Italy                  In 2008, Silvio Burlusconi’s coalition gains only 47% of the vote but 55% of the seats.  So when one of his coalition partners withdraws, the vote of no confidence becomes inevitable. He should have lost by one but he survives by 314 votes to 311, because two members of the Values Party change sides. There are many allegations of vote buying.


28.6.2012          USA                 To the surprise of many, the Supreme Court of the United States upholds the status of the Affordable Care Act (dubbed Obamacare by some) by 5 votes to 4.


17.3.2015          Israel                 Benjamin Netanyahu concocts a coalition with a majority of one.  One year later…


22.5.2016                                  …Moshe Yaalon resigns and Avigdor Liberman of the extreme right Yisrael Beitenu party joins, a tail to wag the dog.


3.10.2016          Columbia           A referendum on the peace-deal with Farc was lost by 50.21% to 49.78%.  To vote ‘no’ to peace, however, does not mean the opposite of ‘no’ – namely ‘yes’ – to the opposite of peace, war. 


C.3 Elections


17.2.1801          USA                 In the electoral college vote for the presidency, Thomas Jefferson wins 73 votes but so does another member of the same party, Aaron Burr. After 35 ballots spread over 6 days, the House of Representatives chooses the former.


4.3.1877            USA                 Samuel Tilden (Democrat) wins 4.3 million votes, while Rutherford Hayes (Republican) gains only four million. This gives Tilden 184 votes in the electoral college to Hayes’ 166, with 19 votes in three states in dispute. A bipartisan commission of 8 Republicans and 7 Democrats decide, by 8 to 7, that all 19 go to Hayes.  So Hayes, the loser, wins, 185–184.


6.11.1888          USA                 Grover Cleveland (Democrat) won 5,534,488 votes while his (Republican) opponent, Benjamin Harrison, won 5,443,892.  And Cleveland lost!  He had just 168 votes in the electoral college, whereas Harrison had 233.


19.9.1949          Germany            To become West Germany’s first post-war Chancellor, Konrad Adenaur needs a majority of the 402 MPs and he gets just 202.


17.1.1956          Finland              Beating his rival for the presidency by 151–149, Urho Kekkonen goes on to become the country’s longest serving president, surviving in office until 1982. (The rules have now been changed to limit the office holder to just two terms.)


14.5.1960          Kenya                At the inaugural meeting of the Kenya African National Union, which later became Kenya’s one and only party, Jomo Kenyatta is chosen as President, and the late Tom Mboya is elected General Secretary by one vote.  He is assassinated on 5.7.1969.


1.6.1961            Zanzibar             A coalition of two parties wins 49.4% of the FPP vote, thus to win 13 seats; while their opponents with 50.6% get 10.


17.8.1970          Lebanon             Suleiman Frenjieh fails to get a two-thirds majority in the first round; the second round is declared invalid when the total number of votes in the 99-person chamber tops 100; but ‘Franjieh’s gunmen [bring] their firearms into the chamber.’ (Fisk 2001: 76) He now wins by 50 votes to 49.


-.-.1975             Portugal             In the wake of the “carnation revolution”, democracy was re-instated and a newly elected parliament had to choose a government.  In more than one instance, the vote was tied, so Gen. Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho of the Directório  (Directorate) decided himself.


31.12.1989         Poland               In a joint meeting of both houses of parliament, Wojciech Jaruzelski is elected president by one vote.


29.12.1996         Madagascar         In the trs presidential elections, Didier Ratsiraka won by 50.7% to 49.3%.  In a subsequent election, on 16.12 2001, he lost the first round to Marc Ravalomanana by a whisker, so the latter declared himself the president without a second round, and violence broke out.


-.3.1999             Switzerland        When parliament was voting for its government, a Mr. Deiss was preferred to a Mr. Hess by 120 votes to 119.  While for the post of Justice Minister, both Mrs Metzier and Mrs. Roos both got 122 votes.


10.10.1999         Portugal             In the general election, the socialists win exactly half of the seats in parliament, 115 out of 230.


16.5.2000    Dominican Republic   Hipólito Mejía winds the presidential election on 49.9% of the vote.


2.11.2001          NI                     The First Minister David Trimble loses the unionist majority by 30 to 29. So some of the MLAs designated as “others” (Sect. become “unionist”, just for the day, and he now gains the necessary 31 out of 60 majority.


10.12.2001   Trinidad and Tobago The United National Congress gets 18 seats from 49.9% of the vote, while the People’s National Movement also gets 18 seats, from the slightly smaller total of 46.5%.


5.4.2006            Iraq                   Mr Ibrahim Jaafari wins the nomination to head the next government by a single vote but his Shia bloc, with the biggest minority from the December 2005 elections, is still short of an overall majority.


3.2.2008            Serbia                In the second round of the presidential election, Boris Tadić of the Democratic Party is re-elected with 50% of the vote. His rival, Tomislav Nikolić of the Serb Radical Party, whose leader Vojislav Šešelj has been indicted for war crimes and is in The Hague, gains 48%.


7.12.2008          Ghana                In the parliamentary elections, the National Democratic Congress wins 114 seats, which is exactly half of the parliament, and in the second round of the presidential elections held on 28th, John Atta Mills wins 50.2% of the vote while his rival Nana Akufo-Addo gains 49.8%. Unlike the events which followed the election in Kenya (Sect., the changeover in Ghana is peaceful.


7.3.2010            Iraq                   With 24.7% of the vote, the party of the former PM, Iyad Allawi, gains 91 seats out of 325, while the PM, Nouri al-Maliki, with 24.2%, wins 89. (See also Sect. and chronology 2010.)


6.5.2010            UK                   The UK general election is won by none. The Tories get 306, Labour 258, Lib-Dem 57, DUP 8, the Scottish Nationalist Party, SNP, 6, SF 5, Plaid Cymru 3, SDLP 3, Alliance 1, GP 1, Ind. 1. A majority equals 326, or 323 if SF stays away.  So there could be a minority administration:

(a)         306 or               (b)        306 + 8                                     or         (c)         258 + 57,

or a majority one:

(d)        306 + 57 or        (e) 258 + 57+ 6 + 3 + 1 + 1 + 1    or         (f) 258 + 57+ 8 + 6,         or

(g) some other combination, or there could be (h) a GNU.

After just 5 days of negotiations, a coalition government is formed, (d) 306 + 57, heralding, they say, a new era of consensual politics.


21.8.2010          Australia            In Dec. 2009, Tony Abbott is elected leader of the Liberal Party by one vote, 42–41 with one abstention. In the 2010 general election, he ties with Jackie Gillard of the Labour Party at 72 seats each, but the latter forms an administration with the help of one GP MP and some independents.


14.4.2013          Venezuela           In the post-Chavez presidential elections, Nicolás Maduro wins 50.6% while his opponent, Henrique Capriles gets 49.1.  The results are disputed.


15.6.2014          Columbia           Presidential elections.  Juan Manuel Santos was 2nd in the first round, but 1st in the second with 50.95%.


22.5.2016          Austria              Alexander Van der Bellen, an independent (though sponsored by the Greens) beats Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party by 50.3% to 49.7%.