Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Apathy Is Atrophy: A Political Calling

It began in the fall of 1973..

in the State of New Hampshire, where a Republican Senator by the name of Norris H. Cotton, who had served in the United States Senate for 20 years, had decided not to run for reelection. Senator Cotton was an established leader in the Republican Party, serving as the Senate Republican Conference Chairman in the final 3 years of his tenure.

To fill his seat emerged veteran New Hampshire Republican Congressman Louis C. Wyman (left) . His opponent–young Democratic candidate John A. Durkin (right).

With the advantage of stronger party registration (39% to 28%) and a powerful Republican Governor, the GOP was set to hold the seat. Leading up election night, Wyman was expected to win handily.

On election night–November 5, 1974–poll numbers showed a small GOP victory of 355 votes out of the 223,363 cast (only 0.16%). With such a small margin, Durkin challenged the results and demanded a recount.

He was granted the request, and by November 27, the recount was complete. The winner...

John Durkin, Democrat, by a margin of 10 votes!

That night, Republican Governor Meldrim Thomson certified the election results. Unsatisfied, Wyman filed an appeal to the New Hampshire State Ballot Law Commission. The commission proceeded with its own recount, ending on December 24, 1974. This time, the winner...

Louis Wyman, Republican, by a margin of just 2 votes!

Durkin quickly petitioned the US Senate to review the case. With Senator Cotton's term ending on January 3, Governor Thomson appointed Louis Wyman to temporarily fill his seat. What followed was one of the shortest terms of any US Senator–just 4 days (Congress wasn't in session). Afterward, the seat remained vacant while the election results were settled.

For weeks, the Senate Rules Committee tried to the resolve the issue, which only resulted in a 4-4 deadlock vote, forcing the decision to the entire Senate. Not surprisingly, the Senate was unable to settle the matter, with partisan tension from both sides. By July 1975, with the issue unsettled, Louis Wyman wrote to John Durkin requesting a new election. Initially, Durkin resisted. On July 29, he reversed his decision, endorsing a special election.

In the meantime, the Senate voted to declare the seat vacant, which allowed Governor Thomson to appoint none other than old Norris Cotton to temporarily fill the seat. Finally, on September 16, 1975, a special election was held in New Hampshire. At last, the winner was...

John Durkin, Democrat, by a margin of 27,771 votes!

Many analysts attributed Durkin's victory to a smart, tough, labor-supported get-out-the-vote drive. In the 2nd election, Wyman did not lose a single vote (he actually gained around 2000), meaning that Durkin was able to get 27,000 new voters to visit the polls. Talk about organizing at its best! And for the first time in 121 years, New Hampshire had two Democratic Senators.

The 1974 New Hampshire Senate election was both the closest election in Senate history and the longest election in American history! It should continue to remind us all of how important every vote truly is. I'd like to give a special thanks to Senate.gov for the nitty-gritty.

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