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One Vote

Monday, November 07, 2016 - 03:00 AM

(Photo Credit: Dean Terry)
Come election season, it's easy to get cynical. Why cast a ballot if your single measly vote can't possibly change anything?

In our first-ever election special, we set off to find a single vote that made a difference. We venture from the biggest election on the planet - where polling officials must brave a lion-inhabited forest to collect the vote of an ascetic temple priest - to the smallest election on the planet - where there are no polling officials, only kitty cats wearing nametags. Along the way, we meet a too-trusting advice columnist, a Texan Emperor, and a passive-aggressive mom who helped change American democracy forever. 

Reported by Latif Nasser with help from Tracie Hunte. Produced by Simon Adler, Tracie Hunte, Matt Kielty, Annie McEwen and Latif Nasser. 

Special thanks to The Plymouth Fife and Drum Corps and their director Jim Predhomme. Special thanks also to Professors Timothy Harris, Krista Kesselring, Charles Somerwine, Jim Lehring, Isabel DiVanna, Sara Bronin, Wanda Sobieski, Paula F. Casey, Andrea Mansker, and Jenny Diamond Cheng. Thanks to the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound. And thanks as well to Cindy Horswell, Robin Melvin, Ken Herman, Laura Harrington and Mel Marvin. 

Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at   


Carole Bucy, C. P. Joshi, Hemlata Joshi, Jill Lepore, Alan Lesselyong, S.Y. Quraishi and Tom Vickstrom


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Comments [38]

Scott H from Washington, DC

I really love this episode and I hope today's story is included if it is ever updated!

Dec. 19 2017 10:09 PM
anete from Latvia

Hi Radiolab!Loved this story.
Wanted to point out that the 'Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe’s original reporting on Denton County Municipal District No. 7 (aka Shiney Hiney Ranch)'link does not work as it's missing 'h' in http://..

Aug. 22 2017 09:50 AM
Deepak Koppula from Chicago, IL

I was listening to this episode a week ago and found it fascinating. Today your episode makes it mark through the vote on the healthcare repeal.

No matter what side of the healthcare debate you are on, one has to deal with the implications of last night's failed vote on healthcare repeal. All this due to one vote that changed sides.

I'm hopeful that one vote, one voice, and one bold act has the power to change the course. Thank you for this episode and helping people believe in hope!

Jul. 28 2017 01:35 PM
Laszlo from Exeter, UK

not sure how much coverage this got in the US (why would it). I missed it last month here in the UK but now bumped into this fact:
North East Fife constituency 2017 Election Results. Stephen Gethins (SNP) 13,743 (votes); Elizabeth Riches (LD) 13,741 (votes).

Jun. 27 2017 10:51 AM
Clifton Patrick from Chester, NY

Chester News Nov. 2, 1915:

--Female suffrage was beaten [by] only 1 vote, “yes” receiving 198 votes and “no” 199.

Apr. 17 2017 03:26 PM
Ben from Pennsylvania

According to the official 2015 election report for Allegheny County, PA
( there was just one vote (per race) cast in the auditor's races for Fawn, PA and West Elizabeth, PA. See page 18 in the PDF. On page 42, there's one-vote write-in for constable in each of South Versailles and Ben Avon Heights, and two positions available in South Versailles. No votes were cast for constable in McDonald (p. 45) or McKeesport Ward 1 (Ward 2 had a single-vote race as well). I'm not sure what the backstories are there.

Feb. 13 2017 03:41 PM
Kerry from North Carolina

There is a story of a one vote win in by a mayor in a town I used to live in.
Interesting story. Great podcast!

Jan. 26 2017 02:50 PM
Peter Nelson from Boston, MA, USA

"Your vote is important not because it might singularly make the difference but because it is participating in a process where everyone is included"

I think that's just a rhetorical device to try to make the fact that your individual vote is meaningless more palatable.

Jan. 04 2017 10:28 PM
David from Brisbane, Australia

I feel like this episode completely missed the point of democracy. Democracy is good because decisions are not made by just one vote. Democracy is powerful and fair because the collective decides and its not just up to one decision maker to govern everyone. Your vote is important not because it might singularly make the difference but because it is participating in a process where everyone is included (or can be if they want). We need to change the rhetoric of 'my vote will/wont make a difference' because that is exactly what democracy is against. We should be saying 'OUR vote will make a difference', 'vote so that WE can make OUR country a good place'.

I love your podcasts by the way. Thank you so much for some very stimulating listening.

Dec. 05 2016 06:29 PM
Kim Trutane from Albany, CA

I am the grateful recipient of a one-vote win in the Nov. 8, 2016 election, documented in this news story from the San Francisco Chronicle, Four candidates were vying for two open school board seats in Albany, CA. I came in second with 3,861 votes to my competitor's 3,860. My supporters continue to tell me their voting stories, a young voter who had never voted before, a new citizen voting for me in the their first election, friends who recommended me to a neighbor or a passersby. I can't stop thanking everyone for their vote, and expect that I will be known locally as the one-vote win lady for a long time.

Dec. 05 2016 12:34 AM
Cat from Oakland, CA

Saw this in the paper today. A one vote win!

Dec. 03 2016 01:13 PM
Will Sacco from Danbury, CT

John Green from Crash Course World History claimed that King Louis XVI's death sentence was decided by one vote in the National Assembly. Go to 6:30 in the video ( and see for yourself. I've been trying to fact check it; verdict is still out!

Dec. 02 2016 08:34 AM
LR from Albany, California

In my small town, the most recent school board election was decided by one vote. Of course I immediately thought of Radiolab.

Nov. 30 2016 02:17 AM
Julien Couvreur from WA

In the second segment of the episode (landowner setting up a tax), I am unclear why the government is involved at all, or why the dues would be called taxes.

Not every payment is a tax (the origin of the word in other languages make things clearer, for instance in French, "impot" or imposition).
We don't call homeowner association due, club dues or the rent in a mall. Why? Because they are voluntary.
The deal includes conditions and agreeing to the deal means agreeing to the conditions.

In the case of the Texas communities, every single person who buys some piece of that land can see the conditions that are attached with that property. Nobody who did not agree will be forced to pay, as there is demonstrated unanimous consent by the owners of those parcels.

Nov. 20 2016 01:25 AM
R.A. from San Diego

Great episode as always! However, I just thought someone should ask: in an episode so much centered around American voting, why is there so much usage of a song titled "Rule, Britannia!"?

Nov. 18 2016 08:27 PM
P. de Roos from Amsterdam

Wow, this felt like an awkward episode; after Clinton just lost with a surplus of more than 700.000 popular votes. (still counting) I should have listened before Election Day.

Nov. 15 2016 04:26 PM

I'm a little surprised you didn't cover the one vote that brought us independence by Caesar Rodney, a delegate of the 2nd continental Congress who literally rode all night to break the grid lock tie of this fellow delegates from Delaware. The congress required at all colonies stand united and without Delaware voting for Independence back in 1776 we wouldn't be the USA Today.

Nov. 15 2016 06:25 AM
Chris from California

I'll agree that the story of the one person living on the Texas ranch to enable the creation of the utility district is cute, but any indignation at these districts being created before the residents arrive Is a bit silly. Someone has to pay for the utility/infrastructure that supports the development. The future residents do not really have a choice about whether to pay it - they will either pay for it through a more expensive home or by the utility district tax.

Financing districts are a common way how infrastructure gets paid for in new developments.

Nov. 14 2016 11:57 PM
CJ from Columbia, SC

@Grant Godfrey, you are correct that the letter is widely discredited. However, Jad and Rob mention the letter is bogus at 6:55 - 7:00.

Nov. 14 2016 11:11 AM
GLQM from London, United Kingdom

a note on pronunciation of the indian name.

Phonetically it's Mu-hunt Bhaa-rut-daas Durr-shun-daas

Nov. 13 2016 08:59 AM
Justa Thought from Seattle, WA

Nov. 10 2016 02:25 PM
David Edgarton from Missoula, MT

One of your debunks of Anne Landers was a 25 - 27 Vote. Please understand that a change in one vote is a 2 vote differential in the tally. If ONE of the 27 voters would have changed their vote, there would have been a the ONE vote, in this case, did make the difference.

Nov. 10 2016 09:21 AM
Troy from Colorado Springs

Exceptional Episode.

This one is as good as some of my favorites, going back to 2009. Nice job!

Nov. 09 2016 07:32 PM
Ben from Alabama

The story about districts in Texas reminded me of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was created by the state of Florida to allow the Disney Company to provide governmental services at its resort. The Board of Supervisors is elected by the landowners of the district, all of which are senior Disney employees who own undeveloped plots (the rest of the land, including residential communities, is owned by Disney).

Fun fact: The Wikipedia entry for the District says that the state would continue to perform, of all things, elevator inspections. Now, Reedy Creek does that themselves, too.

Nov. 09 2016 12:44 PM
D. Caudillo from Porter Ranch, CA

Can anyone tell me the song that was playing at the very end of the last story (it starts are 46:15). It is the very chill/methodic guitar strings being picked. Radiolab, if you are listening, it would be awesome if you started listing all the songs you used to produce the podcast. You as well as many other podcasts use great background and transitional music, and sometimes Shazam has a hard time getting it.

Nov. 08 2016 08:00 PM
Gregg from Seattle, WA

Seems like we could have really used a Bush v. Gore reference here: by 1 vote the supreme court elected a president, even though more people voted for the guy who lost :)

Nov. 08 2016 01:58 AM
Chaotician from Missouri

In keeping with the comment about the relative population size difference between that which was mentioned on the show and what we have now, there was the study from Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, which supports the notion that we are living in an oligarchy. The average person within the United States, even when they are within an organized group, do not make a difference, statistically, in the outcome of their vote.

Nov. 07 2016 11:58 PM
Hk from New york

My friend Lisa has a true story about one vote swinging a local election. You may enjoy it. A friend illustrated it with animations. Here's the link:

Nov. 07 2016 10:32 PM
Diego Armendariz from Fort Bend, Texas

Love the podcast, but y'all don't understand Municipal Utility Districts in Texas. If you'd like to understand them and get a peek behind the curtain, you can reach out to me. I am the former President of MUD 121.

Nov. 07 2016 09:21 PM
Kirill Basin from Fair Lawn, NJ

Nothing against Latif/for Ann Landers and not to be that guy vote DID bring Texas into the Union. If the Senate vote was 27 yay and 25 nay and we imagine that one yay did not vote yay but, instead, voted nay, the tally would be 26 yay to 26 yay- a Senatorial tie. The way that works is, if the Senate doesn't pass a judgment by a majority of it's members, the status quo holds. So if the status quo was such that Texas was note a state in the Union before a 26 yay to 26 nay vote, it would not have been one after the vote. So, point to Ann Landers on that one....

Nov. 07 2016 08:18 PM
Carole Eglash-Kosoff from California

Please note that I am the author of a book, BY ONE VOTE, ( and I would like to talk to your Producer.

213 407-7933



Nov. 07 2016 07:28 PM
Kat from Seattle

Here is the youtube video of the single Indian voter:

Nov. 07 2016 12:08 PM
Grant Godfrey from Boston, MA

I looked up the one vote letter that is discussed by Latif and Robert. I was about to circulate it to my coworkers to encourage them to vote. When I Googled it, I was disappointed to find that all items mentioned have been widely discredited ( It returned on the first page of Google. Your fact checker should be ashamed of themselves, and this is coming from someone who likes your show.

I am surprised that you didn't highlight your recent story about Seneca, Nebraska as an example of how one vote can make a difference. There is also the famous 2000 election, in which Gore lost to Bush by ~540 votes in Florida. Of course, historians don't discuss much that Gore eeked out New Mexico by an even smaller margin of ~350 votes (or .061%).

Nov. 07 2016 10:33 AM
litsafari from NYC

Here's an article about the Indian man referenced early on in the podcast:

Nov. 07 2016 10:13 AM
Tony Fox from Florida

I went over to YouTube to try and watch that video you guys referenced about the Indian shaman.

Tried every permutation of keywords I could think of, and also tried google as well as YT, but I can't seem to find it. Do you guys have a link to it somewhere that I might've missed?

Thanks for the great podcasts

Nov. 07 2016 10:11 AM
Nathan Kistler from Monterey California

There are some deep ironies to this episode, made all the more delicious by the fact that the presenters seem to be completely ignorant of them.

The "one vote" which ratified the 19th amendment in effect diluted the voting pool by massively expanding the voting roles. Ultimately this further devalued the vote, even if the intended consequence was the opposite.

For this same reason, looking toward decades old history to demonstrate the value of "one vote" is not sufficient. Where is the adjustment to take into account our massively expanded population?

There are way too many people on this planet and aside from the obvious environmental concerns, overpopulation subtly undermines our democracies.

Nov. 07 2016 09:27 AM
S. Levin from New Rochelle, NY

About 40 yrs ago my hometown had a referendum re:"should the already allocated funds for expanding the BOE facility be used to purchase the land next door to the current BOE building?" No-brainer. My brother & I were home from college & thus available to go and cast our ballots along w/ our parents. The four of us forgot -- the measure lost by 2 votes. Due to a low voter turnout, another referendum was held, & the measure passed w/o difficulty. But because we all forgot, we cost the town whatever it costs to hold a referendum. True story, & I always tell if I need to convince someone to go and vote.

Nov. 07 2016 09:05 AM
George M. Chavis from Arlington, Virginia

In the third segment of your 2 Nov 16 podcast “One Vote,” you state: “…at the end of the civil war, around 1865, as Congress was considering this new amendment, the 14th Amendment, which would give former slaves the right to vote…”

It was the 15th Amendment, not the 14th, that granted the right to vote to former slaves: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of RACE, color, or previous CONDITION OF SERVITUDE.”

I believe the point you were trying to make in referencing the 14th was the language of Section 2 that addresses “apportionment,” which affirmed the “right to vote” but only to 21-year old male citizens. That portion of the 14th states:

“But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the MALE inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crimes, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such MALE citizens shall bear to the whole number of MALE citizens twenty-one years of age in such state.”

Nov. 07 2016 07:26 AM

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