The US elections that were determined by just a few votes

The US elections that were determined by just a few votes
Source: AP
Source: AP

The 2016 election may be getting less neck-and-neck every day, but the United States has a history of close-call elections under its belt. 

It's happened at all levels of government: in a small Nevada town, two aspiring county commissioners dueled for the seat by literally drawing playing cards; in Wyoming, a pingpong ball once decided a seat in the state's House of Representatives. Even in national elections, voters have held their breath until the last moment. 

Here are some of the most riveting close-call elections.

Debate moderator Howard K. Smith sitting between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon in Chicago.
Source: 
Anonymous/AP

John F. Kennedy beats Richard Nixon by 0.2% of the popular vote.

In 1960, a back and forth battle between Democratic nominee John F. Kennedy and Republican nominee Richard Nixon was famously won by 84 electoral votes and an incredibly slim popular vote. Of the nearly 70 million votes logged, JFK had 34,220,984 votes to Nixon's 34,108,157.

James K. Polk, 11th President of the United States
Source: 
Wikipedia

James Polk beats Henry Clay by 1.4% of the popular vote.

In 1844, Democrat James Polk only won the popular vote over Whig party nominee Henry Clay by roughly 39,000 votes. It was the last election in which states would vote on different days. By the 1848 election, votes were all taken on the same day in November — that year, it was November 7.


Grover Cleveland, 22nd and 24th president of the United States
Source: 
Wikimedia Commons

Grover Cleveland beats James Blaine for the popular vote by 0.7%

In 1884, Democrat Grover Cleveland narrowly defeated Republican nominee James Blaine by about 57,000 votes, making Cleveland the first Democratic president since before the American Civil War. In the end, the election was decided when Cleveland took New York by a margin of 1,047 — out of over 1.1 million.


George W. Bush shaking hands with Al Gore
Source: 
TANNEN MAURY/Getty Images

George W. Bush beats Al Gore by five electoral votes, but loses popular vote by 0.5%

In 2000, Republican nominee George W. Bush won the presidency over Democrat Al Gore, then-vice president, by taking 271 electoral votes to Gore's 266. Gore won the popular vote by roughly 500,000, and Bush's win was steeped in controversy. Florida's election results, according to a probe performed in January of 2001, found Gore should've won after the Florida electoral vote recount. Instead, Bush went on to his first term as president.


George W. Bush with John Kerry
Source: 
J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AP

George W. Bush beats John Kerry for the popular vote by 2.4%

In 2004, Bush won his second term as president over democrat John Kerry, winning by about 3 million votes. Again, Bush won under unusual circumstances. Questions arose about whether election irregularities in Ohio, a battleground state needed for either nominee to become president, had led to the wrongful election of the Republican candidate. Reports came out claiming voting machines were reduced in parts of town which might favor Kerry and increased in areas which might favor Bush.

"In Columbus, bipartisan estimates say that 5,000 to 15,000 frustrated voters turned away without casting ballots," the Washington Post reported. While it wouldn't have turned the tide on Bush's 118,000-vote lead, problems in line with issues in Columbus were common across the state. If Kerry had taken Ohio, there may have been a democratic president in 2004.

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Max Plenke

Max Plenke is a staff writer at Mic, where he covers breaking news, climate science, health and the future. His work has appeared in Esquire, GQ and Wallpaper. Send story tips to max@mic.com.

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