02 November, 2004

The 'One Vote' Myth

A thank you goes to Mr. Sharkey for the heads-up on this:
'One Vote' Fallacies

"Claim: To impress upon readers the importance of casting their votes, lists circulate that perpetuate a variety of "one vote" canards; e.g.;
  • In 1645, one vote gave Oliver Cromwell control of England.
  • In 1649, one vote caused Charles I of England to be executed.
  • In 1776, one vote gave America the English language instead of German.
  • In 1845, one vote brought Texas into the Union.
  • In 1875, one vote changed France from a monarchy to a republic.
  • In 1923, one vote gave Adolf Hitler leadership of the Nazi Party.
  • In 1941, one vote saved Selective Service - just weeks before Pearl Harbor was attacked.
Status: All the above claims are false.

Origins: Regardless of the value of casting a ballot, the fervor to incite others to vote doesn't abrogate the need to be factual in the claims used as prods. The falsities listed above routinely find their way into the media, most likely because they have so often been circulated as part of larger lists detailing incidents where one vote made an important difference that this year's inciter doesn't think to question them.

Worse, not only are these lists published as gospel both in the traditional print media and on the Internet, they often survive attempts to debunk the various erroneous claims made in them. Election year after election year, screwball "one vote" lists have life breathed back into them through impassioned readers' letters on the editorial page, in the body of news articles by paid journalists, and in the offerings of advice and opinion columnists.

Misinformation of this nature is a Weeble -- you can hit it, you can knock it down, but as surely as God made little green apples, it will pop back up. And sure enough, Jesse Jackson's speech before the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles on 15 August 2000 included this bit of wisdom about the importance of voting:"

Just remember boys and girls, participation in your own demise is not mandatory- yet...


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