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Top 10 Votes That Altered History FOREVER

VO: Rebecca Brayton

Script written by George Cimurt.

Ever ask yourself: why is it important to vote? Because there are some world-changing votes that change the course of history. Whether they’re the most important presidential elections, for example, like the election of Abraham Lincoln, the United Nations’ vote on the Partition Plan for Palestine or the Brexit vote to decide whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union, these votes affected the politics and histories of many nations. WatchMojo counts down ten times citizens went to the polls and made history.

Special thanks to our user Muppet_Face for suggesting this idea! Check out the voting page at WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top%2010%20World-Changing%20Votes%20in%20History


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Script written by George Cimurt.

Top 10 Most Important Votes That Altered History Forever

When people go to the polls, history is made. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 world-changing votes in history.

For this list, we’re looking at the decisions that changed world attitudes, sparked massive conflicts or shaped entire nations.

#10: United States Declaration of War on Japan
December 8, 1941

One day after Japan’s surprise attack on Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered what’s now known as the Infamy Speech before Congress and the nation. In the seven-minute address, he called December 7th “a date which will live in infamy,” and officially requested that Congress declare war on Japan in retaliation. As a result, it was brought to a vote, and less than an hour after Roosevelt’s speech ended that vote had passed 82-0 in the Senate and 388-1 in the House. That vote officially brought the United States into WWII, shaping the events to come and perhaps shifting the tides of war.

#9: Indian Provincial Elections
January 1946

Although this was simply a vote by British India to elect representatives to the legislative council, it ended up sparking enormous changes in the Indian subcontinent, the effects of which were felt for generations. Leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had long been proponents of an independent – and united – India, but the 1946 elections effectively killed that dream. While they only finished second with one-third of the overall votes, the Muslim League succeeded in unifying the country’s Muslims. This destabilized India, ultimately leading to the partitioning of the country and the creation of the Muslim state of Pakistan in 1947.

#8: South Sudanese Independence Referendum
January 9-15, 2011

Bloody civil wars raged through Sudan from 1955-72 and again from 1983-2005 between the government of central Sudan and guerrilla forces representing South Sudan, with the non-Islamic South seeking increased representation and sovereignty from the Islamic state of Sudan. Although they were granted relative autonomy, a referendum was eventually held in January 2011 to decide whether South Sudan would separate from Sudan. 98.83% voted for independence, and at midnight on July 9th, 2011 the Republic of South Sudan was formed. Unfortunately, 2013 saw the beginning of another civil war in South Sudan, this time between the government and its opposition, with hundreds of thousands of people killed and millions displaced as a result.

#7: United Kingdom European Union Membership Referendum [aka Brexit]
June 23, 2016

A 1975 referendum saw over 67% of UK voters choosing to join what would eventually become the European Union. But as decades progressed, political figures of all stripes began publicly promoting withdrawal from the EU, and in June 2016 citizens went to the polls. Ultimately, almost 52% of the 33.5 million voters chose to leave, with most people in England and Wales voting to go and Scotland and Northern Ireland primarily opting to stay. Although the long-term effects of this decision remain to be seen, financial markets took an immediate and significant hit. In addition, the Brexit vote inspired countries like France, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland and Hungary to consider withdrawing from the EU as well.

#6: United States Presidential Election
November 6, 1860

Although Barack Obama’s 2008 election as the United States’ first African-American president was significant, the presidential election of 1860 could be considered even more earth shaking. The years leading to that vote saw the nation split on the issue of slavery, and the election of the anti-slavery Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln deepened the rift. In fact, before Lincoln was even inaugurated, seven slave states seceded from the Union, declaring independence and eventually forming the Confederate States of America with four additional states. This, in turn, led to the American Civil War; the bloodiest war in the history of the U.S. and a conflict that changed the country’s course forever.

#5: Ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
August 18, 1920

The United States was founded in 1776, but it wasn’t until 1920 that the country allowed women to vote. The suffrage movement surfaced in the 1840s but really gathered steam during the Reconstruction Era, fighting for women’s rights at both state and national levels. Although the Nineteenth Amendment was introduced in 1878 and some individual states had already granted suffrage to women, the battle was finally won nationwide in 1920 when the amendment was ratified by the number of states necessary and added to the Constitution. This not only prevented citizens from being blocked from voting based on their sex; it also contributed to a shift in attitude toward women’s rights worldwide.

#4: United Nations’ Vote on Partition Plan for Palestine
November 29, 1947

Palestinian Arabs and Jews have been fighting for centuries, with each group laying claim to the area. By the 1940s, the conflict had become increasingly violent in the British-controlled region, so the United Nations were brought in to broker a solution. On November 29th, 1947, the UN voted to partition Palestine, meaning separate Arab and Jewish states would be formed and Jerusalem would be treated separately due to its shared religious significance. The plan was accepted by the Jews but rejected by the Arabs, who asserted it was in violation of the UN Charter’s principle of self-determination. Violence and eventually civil war ensued, and the partition was never put into practice.

#3: German Federal Election
March 5, 1933

President Paul von Hindenburg had already appointed Adolph Hitler Chancellor of Germany in January 1933, effectively allowing the Nazi Party to seize control of the country. But the March 1933 election more firmly established Hitler’s leadership, allowing the Nazis to pick up 92 seats more than they had in the previous election. Even so, they did not have a majority government, but they did have enough power to see that the Enabling Act was passed. This was the piece of legislation that essentially awarded dictatorial powers to Adolph Hitler, allowing him to pass laws without the approval of Parliament. Before long, Hitler outlawed other political parties, dissolved parliament and started WWII.

#2: South African Apartheid Referendum
March 17, 1992

When State President of South Africa, F. W. de Klerk, first addressed parliament, he proposed some startling changes: the prohibition of certain political parties would be repealed, Nelson Mandela would be discharged from prison, capital punishment would be stopped, and the country’s state of emergency would end. What’s more, he also planned to end the system of established racial segregation and discrimination that’d existed in South Africa since 1948. However, many of these changes hinged on a 1992 referendum, in which only white voters could decide whether the apartheid system should be abolished. The “Yes” side won decisively with almost 69% of the vote, leading to multi-racial elections that ultimately saw Mandela elected as South Africa’s first black President.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Paris Agreement on Climate Change
April 22, 2016

- Quebec Referendum
October 30, 1995

#1: Soviet Union Referendum
March 17, 1991

“Do you consider necessary the preservation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics in which the rights and freedom of an individual of any nationality will be fully guaranteed?” This was the question posed to hundreds of millions of Soviet citizens in an attempt to avert the collapse of the Soviet Union. Almost 150 million voted in favor of the USSR’s reorganization into a confederation known as the Union of Sovereign States. However, before the country could be restructured, an attempted Communist coup destabilized the country’s government. While that coup failed, it did contribute to the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26th, 1991.

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