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Decided By One Vote
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.

Note that any one of these can also have an additional scenario attached to the final vote - one character, either out of ignorance or some moral principle, refuses to vote for themselves and votes for their opponent instead. This one vote will ironically be their undoing as they discover that their opponent did not share this mentality. This may also happen due to a character believing a vote for themselves is unfair or even not realizing they can actually vote for themselves. It may also include an epiphany where one of the candidates realizes at the last moment that they don't deserve to win and votes for their opponent instead, thus ensuring their own defeat for the greater good.

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.

This occasionally happens in real life (but not nearly as often as oft-repeated chain letters would have you believe).

Examples

Type 1:

Comic Books
  • 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.
  • A Josie and the Pussycats story showed Dumb Blonde Melody and Alpha Bitch Alexandra running against each other for class president, but neither one was capable of getting more than exactly half of the school to support them. Alexandra, at the last moment, realized she could swing thing in her favor by telling Melody there was a rule against a candidate voting for themselves. Therefore, while technically Alexandra wins by two votes, Melody's single vote for her opponent prevents the candidates own votes from cancelling each other out.

Live-Action Television
  • Sheriff Coltrane once forgot to vote on The Dukes of Hazzard because he was too busy assisting Boss Hogg's plans to cheat in the election. Had he voted, it would've come out in Hogg's favor.

Western Animation
  • 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 20ft alien who used human skulls as cushions and the above killer robot as presidents, some reform of the candidate selection process 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!
  • The Simpsons
    • In the early episode "Lisa's Substitute", 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 example occurs in "Wild Barts Can't Be Broken" with a "6 PM under 70 curfew" winning "by a single vote!" Marge says, "Homer, you 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.
  • Bobby's World had an episode where both Bobby and Uncle Ted ran for different offices. While the main plot resolves with Bobby losing 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:

Anime and Manga
  • 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 (i.e. 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.
  • In the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga, Asuka and Seika are tied in votes for "Miss Duel Academy," a contest Asuka has no interest in entering, all because Judai didn't vote. After a great deal of negotiation, it's ultimately decided that Asuka will duel Judai, dropping out of the contest if she wins, and giving the vote to Seika if she loses. She loses, but Seika concedes, noting with chagrin that everyone is backing Asuka.

Comic Books

Film
  • 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
  • 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.
  • An episode of The Dukes of Hazzard dealt with a woman running against Boss Hogg for county commissioner. The election comes down to one vote, that of the county clerk, who was away from Hazzard for his wedding. Bo and Luke wind up driving him, his bride-to-be AND the minister back to Hazzard on a hay truck, with the wedding ceremony going on in the back.

Webcomics
  • 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.

Western Animation
  • 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:

Comics
  • 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.

Film
  • 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. It's actually his Batman Gambit because he knew they'd do this. As soon as he does this, all the other Pirate Lords start screaming that he should vote for him/her instead.
  • 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.

Literature
  • 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 (one voter was, among other things, grilled at length about his feeling on the current price of eggs), which together with existing data on demographics and political opinion is used to calculate what everyone would have voted.
  • 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.

Live-Action TV
  • In Sesame Street episode "Telly the Tie-Breaker", which not coincidentally first aired on the day of the 2012 U.S. presidential election, Elmo and friends vote on whether to sing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" or "Row, Row, Row Your Boat". The vote is tied, which leaves Telly to cast the decisive vote. He doesn't like the pressure.
  • Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined)
    • Included in the 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.
  • Neds 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 1871 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.
  • 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.

Machinima
  • 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.

Theatre
  • 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 a dramatic night ride back to Philadelphia by Caesar Rodney; Pennsylvania is swung when pro-independence Benjamin 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 at the time of writing, nobody knew why (as the creators admit). More recent research shows that he only withheld his "yes" vote because he was making sure his constituents were in favor of it.

Video Games
  • 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.
  • One potential event in The Yawhg sees one of your protagonists getting approached by a group trying to decide between two leaders. Since they're completely deadlocked, they ask your hero to act as a tiebreaker. Whichever candidate you vote for rewards you afterwards as thanks.
  • In Secret of the Stars, the mayoral race in Decatas comes down to one vote, and the winning candidate gives you a circus ticket you need to advance the plot, as thanks for voting for him.

Western Animation
  • 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 The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius 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 Dark Horse Victory.
  • South Park:
    • An 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.
  • The Simpsons episode, "A Star is Burns" has Homer holding 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 for 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.

Other Versions:

Anime and Manga
  • In Bakuman。, the decision on whether to serialize the main characters' "Perfect Crime Party" comes down to this, with two added conditions- 1)A "Yes" vote also requires that the voter think the series can compete with Eiji Nizuma's "Crow", and 2)If the main characters don't make it, they can't work for Jump again. The vote is initially 4-3 against serialized, with the editor in chief casting the final "No" vote, but three of the "no" voters change their votes to "Yes", one of whom does it because he doesn't think it makes sense to end their career by such a slim margin.

Film
  • 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
  • While the election is fixed in The Film of the Book, 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.
  • subverted in The Berenstain Bears and the Female Fullback; The B-plot is Brother Bear running against Queenie Mc Bear for school president. Queenie is quick to include the upheaval from Bertha Broom trying out for the boys football team in her campaign, turning the election into a boys vs girls affair, but there are an equal amount of boys and girls in the student body. Queenie is confident she'll win and at the end it's revealed why; Too-Tall Grizzly has a crush on her, and she was counting on his vote! However, the votes are still tied because Bertha, who doesn't care about women's lib, voted for Brother. In the end, Brother concedes to Queenie because he has too many responsibilities anyway.

Live-Action TV
  • 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.
  • One episode of Night Court has the cast trapped in the morgue when the courthouse catches fire on Election Day. Dan is running for a seat in the election. After the group is freed, Dan discovers he lost by one vote. The cast was unable to vote due to being trapped in the morgue, except for Bull who voted against Dan for all of the insults he had to put up with. After all is said and done, a recount discovers that there was one vote for Dan that wasn't counted and the election is now a tie.

Video Games
  • The premise of Shattered Union involves an unpopular president being elected by a very short margin (Does This Remind You of Anything?). He somehow proceeds to get all the other candidates disqualified in the next election, leaving him the only contender. This causes massive unrest, and he ends up imposing martial law on the West Coast. Domestic terrorism is on the rise, culminating in a nuke being planted in Washington, D.C. The President and most of the government officials are killed. Then states start seceding one-by-one and Divided States of America ensues.

Western Animation
  • 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.
  • Played With in Teacher's Pet, where Scott and Leonard are running against each other for class president. On election day they get the same number of votes and their teacher isn't sure how to break the tie... so she awards the presidency to the third place nominee Ian, who only received one vote (his own).
  • Plot point in the American Dad! episode, "It's Good to be the Queen". Stan came with Francine to her reunion only caring that he's married to the homecoming queen. Francine had won by one vote against Betty Sue who became devastated is currently obese. It is revealed that two ballots were uncounted both for Betty Sue. Francine had never won causes Stan to freak out and decides to go out with Betty Sue.
  • Subverted in Beavis and Butt-Head:
    Van Driesen: The results are in, and you guys lost with one vote.
    Butthead: Woah! That was close.
    Van Driesen: No Butthead, you only received one vote.


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