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By one vote

By Atty. Cliff Woodards

“Should things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to rights by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights.” –Thomas Jefferson

The excuse heard most often for not voting in an election is “my one little vote won’t make a difference.” However, the power of one single vote is enormous. Our nation’s past is replete with instances proving that one vote can change and in some cases have changed the course of human events.

The following are but a few examples where a single vote either cost a life or changed lives.

In 1649, one vote literally cost King Charles I of England his head. The vote to behead him was 67 against and 68 for — the ax fell thanks to one vote.

According to Paul Wellman, author of “Magnificent Destiny” (Doubleday, 1962), in 1844 on election day in rural Switzerland County, Ind., a farmer named Freeman Clark lay seriously ill in bed. He begged his sons to take him to the county seat so he could vote for David Kelso to become a state senator. Freeman Clark was insistent upon casting his vote for David Kelso because Kelso had previously represented him on a murder charge from which he was acquitted. Clark did vote for Kelso but died on his way back home. Kelso won the election by one vote.

When the new Indiana senate convened, Democrats had a majority of one — counting David Kelso. At that time, U.S. senators were elected by the Indiana State Senate. The Indiana Senate Democrats caucused and favored electing a man who was against the annexation of a large area of land just north of Mexico. David Kelso refused to vote for the Democratic Party choice and a deadlock resulted between the Democratic and Whig candidates. The stalemate dragged on for days until Kelso proposed a new candidate: Edward A. Hannigan. Kelso informed his Democratic colleagues he would vote with the Whigs — thus electing a Whig to the Senate — unless the Democrats supported Hannigan. The Democrats felt obliged to accept Hannigan who was then elected as Indiana’s U.S. Senator by one vote — that of David Kelso.

The following year, that large area of land just north of Mexico called Texas was admitted to the union as a state by one vote — that of Edward A. Hannigan from Indiana.

In 1948, a Texas (yes, the same state that was admitted by one vote) convention voted for Lyndon B. Johnson over ex-Governor Coke Stevens in a contested Senatorial election. Lyndon B. Johnson because U.S. Senator by a one vote margin.

Twelve years later, John F. Kennedy, a Senator from Massachusetts partnered with LBJ to become the youngest president in our nation’s history. Of course, the history is recent enough for most of us to reflect that upon Kennedy’s death, Johnson assumed office and went on to push and cajole some of the most groundbreaking legislation in the form of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act through a reluctant, recalcitrant and racist Congress. Furthermore, let us not forget that Johnson also appointed the first African American United States Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall.

One man — Freeman Clark — and one man’s vote in 1844 quite possibly changed not just the course of history, but the destiny of an entire race of people.

Plenty of U.S. Supreme Court decisions have come down to a 5-4 split, with one justice being the deciding vote.

It must be said that one-vote majorities have also changed history for the worst. On Nov. 8, 1923, members of the then recently-formed revolutionary political party met to elect a leader in a Munich, Germany beer hall. By a majority of one vote, they chose an ex-soldier named Adolph Hitler to become the leader of the Nazi Party.

Our one vote is more powerful than we understand it to be. How can I say that with certainty? If the above examples given weren’t enough we can look the way in which voting rights across this country are under attack. An example of this is the right-to-work movement beginning to surround Michigan in Wisconsin and Indiana. Another is Public Act 4, which probably would not even be a Public Act if Democrats voted in significant numbers in 2010.

We have a primary election in three weeks. Most of us, to our own detriment, ignore primaries and wait for the general election in November.

We have to realize the primary election affords us the widest possible choice of candidates before the “final round” or general election in November. Usually, there are a number of candidates representing both of the major political parties. If you wait until November to cast your ballot, your choice is drastically reduced, often to one individual from each party that you may not find as a favorable candidate.

Now is the time to realize your vote this August and November is important, in fact, it’s critical. We are often chided and reminded that this is about those who fought and died for our right to vote.

No it’s not.

This is not about the dead. It’s about the living. It’s about the unborn. It’s about our children and their children.

It’s about the type of city, state and country we want for ourselves, for our progeny.

In the words of President Obama, “Let me be clear,” if we don’t vote for a particular candidate or a specific cause, the result could be that our children can’t vote for a particular candidate or a specific cause.

It’s that simple.

Vote Aug. 7 and Nov. 6.

Cliff Woodards II, with the Detroit Law Center, has been practicing criminal defense in federal and state courts throughout southeastern Michigan for the past ten years. He is a candidate for judge of the 36th District Court. Contact him at 313.333.4975 or by email at

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