A Map of Some of the Most Disastrous Elections in History - Atlas Obscura
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A Map of Some of the Most Disastrous Elections in History

The epic failures of the voting booth.

Democracy has never been a smooth path. Starting with the ancient Greeks and modified by ancient Romans, the idea of holding elections is still relatively new. After all, it wasn’t until fairly recently that the Western world started questioning the idea of the “divine ruler,” beheading its monarchs or forcing them to grant citizens rights that absolute monarchs would have never dreamed of bestowing.

The world has witnessed several elections that place into question the efficiency of democracy as a system, and the veracity of common human decency. This map illustrates some of these most disastrous elections—the scandals, the bad decisions, the folly of voters.

Starting with Julius Caesar’s corrupt campaign for his election as consul, and moving through the line of history, there is a dark irony to this list. We are reminded of the tumultuous 1876 presidential elections in the United States, which were decided more by a truce between the candidates than by citizens: Not only was Rutherford B. Hayes elected president despite losing popular vote, but also Republicans withdrew from the South, ending the Reconstruction Period and giving way to a legacy of institutional disenfranchisement of black Americans.

Other disastrous elections include the rise to power of corrupt governors that take much more than they give. This includes Arnoldo Aleman, ex-president of Nicaragua, who stole 25 million dollars from the country; and Alberto Fujimori, who resigned by fax to his position as the Peruvian President as he was fleeing the country. Some are pitiful shadows of real elections, in which only one person is included in the ballot. Perfect examples of this are the North Korean “elections” and the Liberian contest of 1927, in which the standing president won with more than ten times the votes than there were voters.

Yet money and choices have unfortunately not always been the only thing taken away by democratically elected governors. Some elections have resulted in repressive regimes that have been responsible for horrible crimes against humanity, including genocide. The most notorious of these instances is the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany in 1932. Though not elected by majority vote, the inconclusiveness of the parliamentary elections gave Hitler a way into political power, which he eventually consolidated as the Fuhrer of the Third Reich. Other examples of atrocious consequences of an election include Robert Mugabe’s rule in Zimbabwe and François Duvalier’s in Haiti.

For all the horrible electoral stories, however, there are sometimes positive outcomes. The election fraud committed by the standing president, Ferdinand E. Marcos, during the Snap Elections in the Philippines eventually led to the end of his rule. Likewise, the Rose Revolution that followed the Georgian parliamentary election of 2003 ended the Soviet regime that governed the nation.

Take heart, prepare yourself mentally, and peruse through a collection of these most disastrous elections.

If you feel like there is an election that should be included, just let us know. We’ll be happy to add it to the map.